". . . (P)ostnatal psychological traumas, in and of themselves,-- Stanislav Grof in Psychology of the Future, pp. 127-128-129
are not sufficient to account for the development
of emotional disorders. This is also true, even to a much greater extent,
for psychosomatic symptoms and disorders. . . . . A considerable portion of this energetic charge is perinatal in origin and reflects the fact that the memory of birth has not been adequately processed and continues to exist in the unconscious as an emotionally and physically incomplete gestalt of major importance."
Dr. Stanislav Grof has been involved in researching transpersonal psychology for over forty years, first as one of the foremost psychotherapists in the use of LSD in the 1950s and later as a theorist and practitioner in holotropic breathwork.
His latest book, The Future of Psychology, is an excellent introduction to both his pioneering work in transpersonal psychology and to his many books in this field. Each chapter in his book makes reference to an earlier book so that a reader will know where to obtain additional information about the subject being discussed.
After he began his work with LSD Grof soon realized that his Freudian psychoanalytic training in psychiatry in Prague had not covered those aspects of the psyche which LSD was uncovering both in his patients and in himself.
He moved to the United States in 1967. Soon thereafter, the use of psychedelics was made illegal. Because of the new restrictive laws on any use of psychedelics, he and his wife, Christina, devised the therapy technique of holotropic
breathwork to access those same aspects of the unconscious which LSD made possible.
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Grof divides the consciousness of the human psyche into three "realms:" The Biographical, The Perinatal (around birth) and The Transpersonal (beyond the biographical). He writes that traditional psychotherapy seems to be concerned only with the events in the life of the client (the biographical). Experiential psychotherapies, such as primal therapy, include the perinatal while holotropic breathwork includes the two and adds the rich transpersonal element. Grof defines the transpersonal domain as all material which arises in a person's consciousness apart from both biographical history and the period around birth. It includes mystical experiences and is practically unlimited in scope,
Transpersonal experiences are very varied and can include identifying with plant and animal consciousness, feeling a oneness with specific parts of, or all of the universe, totally identifying with sperm and ovum life, meeting and conversing with historical figures, insights into the composition of atoms, intuitive knowledge of physiology, experiencing prior lives, experiencing the evolution of species, meeting with mythological beings, communicating with one's ancestors, etc.
Sometimes these transpersonal events occur spontaneously - often triggered by a serious life crisis and accompanied by anxiety and depression. When they happen they sometimes resemble psychoses. When their sufferers have at least one foot in reality, they are called spiritual emergencies by Grof. (See book review of The Stormy Search For the Self). The author criticizes the medical profession for treating these emergent spiritual feelings as pathological - as something to be medicated away. They are, instead, Grof insists, important opportunities for emotional and spiritual growth.
Such crises, Dr. Grof believes, are the result of repressed material becoming more conscious. The bound energy can then be easily eliminated as its symptoms are converted into a stream of experiences. Grof writes that the most powerful method of doing this is with the use of psychedelic substances, but which unfortunately can no longer be used in our present political climate.
He writes that holotropic breathwork has an advantage as a therapy since it works as an "inner radar" zeroing in and automatically bringing into consciousness those elements which need to be worked on by the client. This happens without any prodding or uncovering of material by the therapist.
Birth trauma, he writes, ". . . is the most profound trauma of our life and an event of paramount psychospiritual importance." Grof has divided the stages of birth into four basic peri-natal matrixes (BPMs).The descriptions below only include a few of the possible feelings and transpersonal events.
1.) Blissful or less than blissful womb experience before the birth process begins.
Thus one could be floating in the ocean as a fish or a whale or being in Heaven or feelings of being one with all of creation. Negatively, one could feel as though he were being poisoned or tortured by demons (toxic womb).
2.) Uterus is contracting and the feeling is one of despair and of death
The feelings of death and dying predominate. There could be complete identification with the crucified Christ or of severe torture in a prison.
3.) Cervix has opened and the descent into the birth canal begins. Sense of suffocation. intensification of physical and emotional suffering.
Typical feelings of dying; parachuting; being in war; fighting; wild parties; intense sexual feelings.
4.) Physical emergence into the world. Actual moment of birth feels like annihilation and being reborn.
Typical feelings of being burned; ritual purification; escape from a prison; ecstasy, radiant light; being born again.
In his latest book, Dr. Grof expands the classification list of transpersonal experience which was provided in his first book, The Realms of Human Unconsciousness (1967) (See classification list of transpersonal experiences).
Chapter Three of Psychology of the Future is concerned with emotional and psychosomatic disorders and their relationship to and origins in the different realms of consciousness. These include anxieties and phobias, conversion hysterias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, depression, mania and suicide. Grof also discusses alcoholic and drug addictions and sexual disorders.
He believes that post-natal physical and psychological traumas must be resolved where they really originate -- often in the states of prenatal and transpersonal consciousness. Other milder conditions may be resolved by reliving the traumas in the biographical realm.
In his discussion of the functional psychoses, Grof does not specifically mention, but seems to imply, that such psychoses have their origin in "perinatal dynamics." He believes that ". . . viral infections during mother's pregnancy and obstetric complications during birth, including long labors and oxygen deprivation, are among the few consistently reported risk factors for schizophrenia."
Even without these dynamics, transpersonal elements are usually present in the psychotic's ideation and also occasionally include biographical elements. He feels that psychosis should be redefined (because some are emerging feelings) and quotes Joseph Campell, "The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight." Dr Grof believes that the, currently in vogue, biological explanations for functional psychoses are inadequate.
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I underwent my first transpersonal experience with about seventy other participants, in 1996, when Dr. Grof conducted a 4 day holotropic breathwork session in New Orleans.
In just a matter of minutes, the breathwork and music had propelled me into a very deep visual primal experience. (See Age five tonsillectomy primal)
I continued holotropic breathing after that primal completed and very soon, unlikely as it was, I, whose incipient spirituality had been burned out of me in the birth canal, was feeling a unitive experience, one of the more common transpersonal experiences. But I was not feeling a oneness with the world's population, or with the earth or with all of life. Instead, I was having, through hardly any effort, and through no grace of my own, the ultimate mystical experience - a goal which some medieval Christian mystics had spent decades in achieving.
[They had spent years of penance, austere mortifications of the body (little water, food and sleep), self-flagellation and cuttings, isolation from others and hours of prayful meditation to arrive at that particular mystical state.
I was in a state of "unio mystica" -- the ultimate transpersonal state of the early Christian mystics - a union with God.
From the history of religion we learn that writing and preaching about these particular mystical states had been dangerous for some. These mystics were sometimes accused of heresy. In Germany, during the 14th century, Meister Eckhart had been declared a heretic by Pope John XXII and severe penalties were imposed by the Church because he had declared that "I am so changed into him (God) that he makes me his one existence."
In the tenth century Moslem cleric and mystic, al-Hallaj, had been confined to prison for many years and eventually tortured and executed because he had insisted that he and God were one.
Judaism also had and has a mystical branch in its kabbalistic tradition. Abraham Abulafia (b. 1240) wrote that after the unio mystica experience one ". . . is no longer separated from his Master, and behold he is his Master and his Master is he." This is true for the mystic elements in almost all religions. For example, Quakers can possess "inner light", Zen Buddhists, "satori" and yogis, "samadhi." St John of the Cross likened the mystical experience to "living flame."
Psychedelics, such as LSD, ibogaine, peyote cactus, and the sacred mushroom of Mexico also allow one to have such transpersonal experiences. Believers and non-believers alike can experience the unitive rapture of oneness with God and with all of creation. The experience is the same for both, although non-believers often have a feeling of oneness with the universe instead of with God.
Loggia di Raffaello - From The Vatican Museum Website
After the tonsillectomy primal, I continued holotropic breathing, then suddenly, I was viewing the earth from many miles above its surface and could see its well-defined curvature which was in clear contrast to the dark, almost black, surrounding sky.
I felt very beneficent and content. I could see the blueness of the oceans and
a scattered cloud-cover. I felt that I was God and that I had just joined with Him in the creation of the earth below us. But it was more than a joining with God; it was a complete symbiosis. I had become one with God as we looked down favorably on our new creation.
I nodded my head with approval towards the earth satisfied with the just completed work of creation. I was joyful and expansive. I blessed the earth, making a sign of the cross with my right hand in the center of my field of vision. I then made a sign of the cross to my right and then to my left. With my head nodding, my "blessing" of the earth was physically enacted on the other track of normal consciousness which became visibility superimposed over our view of the earth.
On a second track of consciousness, as exists in primal and other regressive therapies, I realized that I was nodding my head while sitting on a mat on the floor at a holotropic workshop at the Monteleone Hotel. My head movements were synchronized with the head movements of God in the vision. I was viewing the scene with God directly back of his "head," and yet at the same time I felt that I was God.
It was a glorious experience, one I had not expected since I had arrived at the holotropic breathwork workshop with many birth-pain psychosomatic symptoms. I believed I needed to have a painful birth feeling instead of a feeling of such ecstasy. I thought that it would have been more reasonable to transpersonally experience the reliving of being one who was tortured during the Inquisition or the hopelessness of being a captive in some medieval dungeon or even being a concentration camp inmate. Undoubtedly, my psyche had not agreed with my preconceptions of Grof's holotropic breathwork!
Later in the holotropic session, I did re-live my external rotation in the birth canal prior to birth, personally aided by Dr. Grof who applied pressure to my upper back (called 'focused bodywork' in holotropic psychotherapy) to trigger the birth feeling.
Five years later, I was to feel and identify with the sufferings of Christ crucified in the only transpersonal experience I have had in a primal session.
I was home alone. I just had had a long primal of feeling very deeply the physical and emotional torments of dying in the birth canal. I arose from the floor, went into another room to begin writing in my journal when I caught of glimpse of a calendar. As it was the church season of Lent, the calendar had a picture of the crucified Christ for that month's artwork. Viewing the image plunged me right back into the primal feeling of the torments of my birth. I entered my bedroom, lay on my bed with arms outstretched, and viewed my left hand being nailed to a wooden cross!
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Back to the book review. Chapter Five is entitled, New Perspectives In Psychotherapy and Exploration. Dr. Grof writes that an advantage of holotropic breathwork is that the holotropic breathing will automatically bring up material which needs to be worked on. If too much fear or other discomfort is uncovered, the breather simply discontinues the holotropic pace of breathing which terminates or greatly lessens the intensity of the experience.
The music which accompanies holotropic type breathing is an essential ingredient in Grof's therapy. The Future of Psychology contains a listing of seventy-nine music album selections recommended by practitioners as especially useful in holotropic breathwork. I had previously purchased two of the albums feeling that they were particularly well suited for primalling.
The author divides traumas into two types: traumas by commission (physical and emotional abuse) and traumas by omission (lack of positive experiences such as touch and holding). In the later type of trauma the deprivation can be healed by physical holding while in a holotropic state of consciousness. To "take in" this type of contact, the client must be deeply regressed to the stage of infancy. Consent should always be given before the holding takes place. Dr. Grof writes that those who need touch and holding the most often have the greatest resistance to it.
Other interesting chapters of The Future of Psychology include material on spirituality and religion and on the experience of death and dying, The book closes with Stanislav Grof's current thinking on consciousness evolution and its relationship to human survival.
He believes that in studying the farthest reaches of human consciousness, we naturally go into philosophically deep questions about the nature and purpose of our existence, the origins of religion and of the creation and the evolution of the cosmos. In previous books he has mentioned that while one begins holotopic breathwork to alleviate emotional and psychosomatic pain, as the therapy progresses, issues of spirituality become paramount.
Dr. Grof believes that all of our entries into other alternative worlds and interactions with mythical and archetypal beings via the transpersonal route are not ends in themselves, but should be a way to bring us closer to the Absolute Consciousness.
Over 32,000 clients have participated in holotropic breathwork workshops. In the Spring of 2001, Stan Grof, who is 69, will be retiring.. He plans to conduct his final holotropic breathwork workshop in Mill Valley, California.
If you plan to read only one of Stan Grof's books, this should be the one!