Book Review - Dark Night, Early Dawn, by Christopher M. Bache, Ph.D., Sony University of New York Press, 2000, $23.95, pp. 352

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

"I conclude that there is no good evidence . . . that the brain
alone can carry out the work that the mind does. . . . I believe that one should not pretend to draw a final scientific conclusion, in man's study of man, until the nature of the energy responsible for mind action is discovered, as in my own opinion, it will be."

-- Wilder Penfield M.D. - The Mystery of the Mind (1975)

The quotation above of the famous Canadian neurosurgeon, Wilder Penfield, serves as an appropriate preface to this review, as Dr. Christopher M. Bache has posited an explanation for this "energy" about which Penfield speculates. Both he and Dr. Stanislav Grof believe that an exterior source accounts for the extraordinary activities of the human mind, although in Dark Night, Early Dawn, the author restricts his speculations to mind states during transpersonal states of consciousness. I had read a number of reviews of Dark Night but was disappointed since the reviews, though glowing, did not really give readers an idea of what the author had to say on this subject.

Bache, presently Director of Transformative Learning at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California, has arrived at the same conclusions as had Penfield. He believes that in both holotropic breathwork and with the use of entheogens the states of consciousness which arise are essentially the same. Like Dr. Grof, the author believes that the source of this material of wonderment is from somewhere other than one's personal history. He believes that this state of mind transcends the personal ego and seems to imply access into something like the depths of a large capacity memory storage bank containing all of the universe's organic and inorganic history, and especially of mankind's traumatic struggles to evolve, survive, reproduce, endure sickness and suffer death.

This is not just another book on the psychology of exploring eons before and beyond one's personal history in transpersonal modes. The work is more philosophical in tone and asks an important question: Why does the accessed material take the particular form that it does? In Dark Night, Early Dawn, Bache has included beautifully written details of his own transpersonal experiences. He uses these to illustrate the philosophical points of his contributions to cosmological transpersonal theory. Most writings by others of this incredible landscape lack the wonderfully clear detail the author has provided about his session descriptions found throughout his book. The world is not due to blind chance, he writes, and the universe seemingly possesses a natural and accessible intelligence.

Does this "natural intelligence," - this energy force or cosmic consciousness - really exist apart from when one enters into such non ordinary states of consciousness? In other words, does it have objective reality?

I remember my first experience at a Grof workshop in NOSC. Even though I had been in primal therapy for two decades, I knew almost nothing about holotropic breathwork. At the very beginning of his lecture Dr. Grof seemed to be speaking literally - that this mind energy was something apart from one's early traumas, but yet at the same time he seemed to imply that it was related to one's personal biography. I wanted to know what he really believed as he did not seem clear on this point. I blatantly interrupted his lecture and pointedly asked: "Do you mean symbolically?" He turned, looked at me directly, and unambiguously let me know that he meant his words to be taken literally.

* * * *
As Bache made transpersonal journeys into pre and perinatal material, he began wondering why his death-birth process did not complete itself, but rather began to encompass vast multitudes of tormented people throughout history. His personal birth/death process included thousands and hundreds of thousands of others. The personal death and rebirthing process, which normally occurs in holotropic breathwork, soon began to be blown open to include all of humankind. The collective unconscious had been tapped into what he felt as being a unitive experience - a oneness with the world and with all of creation, past, present and future. His NOSCs included witnessing of and being a part of the birth and evolution of various species.

For those who are not familiar with Stan Grof's psycho-dynamic theory, Bache outlines its basic tenents, including the division of the birth process into four perinatal matrixes (BPMs) and the "system of condensed experiences" (COEXs) - feelings and act outs which repeat themselves throughout one's life and which are usually based on early trauma. He writes that after engaging and completing one's peri-natal experiences ". . . every single person who reaches this level in their work adopts a spiritual interpretation of existence, regardless of their prior psychosocial conditioning." (His emphasis). This happens in spite of one's basic philosophical leanings. Thus, even skeptics and atheists become spiritual.

The author believes that there is a paradox in the way Grof describes the perinatal matrices. Grof defines the perinatal domain as not reducible simply to a personal event at the beginning of life, and yet his discussion of it focuses too strongly on one's actual biological birth experience.

Bache argues that neither the personal nor the transpersonal sides of the perinatal domain are primary, that they are equally valid manifestations of the death/rebirth process. The author rounds out Grof's account by giving a plausible explanation of the transpersonal (i.e., collective) dimension of the death/rebirth process to complement Grof's more personally slanted explanation and it is in the transpersonal approach which he theorizes about and which comprises the essentials of Dark Night, Early Dawn. He asks, "why should persons who are engaging unresolved fetal trauma be drawn into tortuous experiences of collective suffering or excruciatingly painful archetypical sequences in the first place?" (His emphasis) Why does the perinatal matrix encompass the sufferings of so many?

The author quotes from a number of his own transpersonal sessions with perinatal elements to illustrate his position that the transpersonal aspects predominate. The themes of some of his holotropic breathwork sessions are of, "(d)isembowelings by the score," "mauling of lives," "deaths in the thousands," "(r)ampaging savagery that was without bounds" - scenes of people attacking and killing each other - mass rape -, destructive war and cruelty. Such themes of multiplicity of torture and the sufferings of tormented souls continued to repeat themselves in session after session. Bache found it difficult to accept that all were symbolic horrors only coming from the matrix of his own birth experience.

These transpersonal ordeals lasted for many years and had a life of their own and which were removed from his personal fetal experiences. Even though the author discontinued the holotropic breathwork for several years and did vipassana meditation, gestalt, body-oriented, and past lives therapies, when he reentered holotropic breathwork he immediately began where he had stopped - in collective mass sufferings.

In an attempt to make sense of why such encompassing of mass anguish was a part of his therapy, Bache began speculating as to its logic and origins. After years of attempting to arrive at a reasonable hypothesis, he proposed the idea that since the regression to the elements of one's personal birth and peri-natal experiences is healing to the individual, perhaps the regression to the sufferings of the collective pain of mankind might also be healing to collective humanity in a general way. Perhaps, the unresolved misery which humankind has suffered during the past can also be resolved in the present and retroactively be a collective purgation of the species.

The author also examines the phenomena of frightening or hellish near-death experiences. Typically, NDEs are described by many as blissful and ecstatic journeys into the light. For this reason many ask why would one percent of experiencers have frightening NDEs? Bache believes that such negative NDEs are also rooted in the transpersonal perinatal level of consciousness, but have "undershot" the ecstatic and ended up in the hellish aspects of the experience rather than beyond it into the joyful "journey to the light."

Dr. Bache includes a chapter on Robert Monroe, the U. S. business executive who developed a method of accessing transpersonal spaces, especially out of body experiences, via electronic tones heard through earphones. Author of a number of books on transpersonal subjects, Monroe died in 1995, but his institute in Charlottesville, Virginia is still very active (See The Monroe Institute). In comparing Grof's transpersonal destinations with Monroe's, most conclude that the transpersonal excursions in Monroe's model are much gentler than with Grof's model. Bache sees this not as a per se gentler form but simply as a method which does not go as deep as the experiences one has with Grof's system of holotropic breathwork.

In Chapter Eight, "The Great Awakening, Bache writes:

"I believe that for there to be a genuine spiritual rebirth of our species, there must first take place a death of the species-ego, a complete collapse of our customary way of experiencing ourselves in the world, and the pain of such a massive collapse is extremely difficult to hold in one's heart. If the dark night of the soul is the painful price the mystic must pay to awaken the divine within, the dark night of the species-soul will be a particularly dark and potentially dangerous time in human history."

The author feels that after some time in transpersonal states of consciousness, the theme of spiritual rebirth consistently arises. Almost apologetically, he writes that this makes discussion of the spiritual rebirth of mankind an aspect which, because of its importance, is hard to ignore. Indeed, others voyagers into these realms have drawn these same conclusions. Bache includes seven pages from his various sessions relating to this topic. He combines chaos theory, near-death episode research, and the study of non-linear systems to suggest that the impending crisis of ecological sustainability may actually trigger a "dark night of the species," analogous to the mystic's dark night of the soul, that will be followed by a spiritual rebirth of our species. He calls this new brand of human which will arise from this dialectic, the Homo spiritualis.

Bache believes that a problem of future economic and raw material sustainability might be the trigger to the dark night of the species-soul catastrophe. He supports his thesis by presenting graphs showing that the present level of industrial production, expanding population, and depletion of natural resources cannot continue indefinitely. A crisis level might be reached early in this century. This thesis had been developed by a team of scientists at M.I.T. in a book, The Limits of Growth. Other equally traumatic scenarios are discussed. The author admits that these conclusions may not be empirically verifiable. He places much confidence in the philosophical work of Richard Tarnas who feels that the history of western civilization has shown an unacceptable separation between itself and the cosmic mind.

Dark Night ends with two interesting appendixes: "Ken Wilber and the Perinatal Features of the Dark Night" and "Ego Death and the Species Mind."

Dr. Christopher M. Bache earlier was Director of Transformative Learning at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California. He is presently Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Youngtstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio. He is also adjunct faculty at California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco. He received a doctorate at Brown University in the Philosophy of Religion and completed three years of post-graduate training at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. Dr. Bache is the author of Lifecycles: Reincarnation and the Web of Life. He has authored sixteen articles. He may be e-mailed at

His article, Mysticism and Psychedelics: The Case of the Dark Night, appears in this website.

Dark Night, Early Dawn

For other articles on this subject, see on this website, The Psychology of Mysticism

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