Letters ToThe PrimalPage
September 6, 1999
I am in the process of trying to integrate my spiritual experiences with my human ones. I call the article below Zen and the Primal Experience. By spiritual I mean transpersonal, those experiences that transcend the personal human physical dimension.
When most people use the word "spiritual" I usually replace it in my mind with the word "feeling", because usually people are unclear about what they mean by spiritual, except to describe an ineffable experience which moved them ( i.e. a deeply emotional or feeling experience).
I dislike the juxtaposition of the term spiritual over against physical (as I have done partially above), because this implies two worlds, the hard physical and the transparent or effervescent spiritual. The physical world is not really solid, as modern physics has proven. So the "spiritual" and the "physical" might better be thought of as different focuses of energy, of which there are many according to eastern mystical concepts..
I have drawn an artificial separation for myself between spirituality or transpersonal experience, and my Primal therapy. The reason for this is that I have found that my pain drives me to obsessive and unreal ideas, fantasies, and inchoate sensations, as a mechanism of repression. My experience with most people interested in spirituality or religion is that they are disassociated. They use religion and spirituality as a way to rationalize and wish away their pain. I certainly do anyway.
It has been a real struggle for me to make sense of spirituality, in the face of my pain, and the confusion and disorientation I experience around it. Despite this confusion I have come to the conclusion that the universe is a psychic manifestation. Physics has demonstrated that all we are experiencing is "energy". The remaining question is whether this energy is conscious or not, except in the case of highly organized systems, such as the human brain.
I have had a number of psychic experiences, and I have friends who have demonstrated psychism to such a degree with me, that I cannot accept a model of the universe which ignores this transpersonal, conscious or Mindful, aspect.
But, all this having been said, I find that people are not very discriminating when it comes to understanding when symbols are cosmic or spiritual in nature, and when they are personal and human in nature. I realize that in the holistic sense there is no real separation. But in working with my own pain I have found that every feeling leads solidly back to a personal historical incident, in relation to people and experiences I have known in this lifetime.
Some feelings/sensations that I have at times thought might be somehow cosmic or transpersonal in nature, I have later traced to early first line feelings (i.e. feelings associated with physical pain registered in the reptilian brain), from experiences in early infancy when symbols and sensations are diffuse, before the infant has had enough development and experience with the world to create more concrete symbols.
Thus, for myself, I consider there to be a real danger in combining spiritual notions with my therapy. I have plenty of pain to feel and integrate from my life with my family, without having to articulate some spiritual or past life experience.
That having been said, I am deeply interested in matters spiritual, because once I have integrated and fully associated with my humanity, I believe there to be a rich dimension of spiritual experience to pursue and enjoy.
I accept the Eastern mystical doctrine that the universe of experience is a psychic event. The universe is conscious, and all of its experience is a manipulation of symbols in consciousness.
This is easy to understand in physical terms. There is no sensation we experience that matches our "external" reality. What we see does not exist. Colors and shapes are representations in the brain. The thing we see is not there. What is there is a construct of energy that is being represented in the brain symbolically. Smells are not there. Smelling is another kind of symbolic construct in the brain to detect and identify chemicals, systems of energy. And so forth for every one of our physical experiences.
Our pain is an abstraction defining our physical necessity for survival. All of our pain connects to our need for protection and survival. It is also tied to our developmental needs to grow and become strong so that we can survive and procreate. Much of our Primal pain is relational in nature. It is about being tolerated, accepted, and nurtured by other human beings. Much of this is tied to the fact we are social animals. I suspect tigers, which are solitary animals as adults, do not experience loneliness, otherwise they would seek the company of other tigers, and they don't (except for mating or mothering). So loneliness is most likely an emotion associated with social animals.
Feelings are symbolic of the meaning of human life. I believe what many religious and spiritual traditions have conceived of as cosmic, is really just human. God the father is the great parent in the sky. That, I believe, is a projection of what is human, onto the cosmic, impersonal, domain.
Buddhism as I understand it is about object relations. The Buddha asserted that the cause of suffering is desire and attachment. Desire is motivated toward objects of desire. These objects may be things, people, status, circumstances. All of these can be thought of as symbols, to which desire attaches itself. A key tenet of Buddhism, as well as most Eastern traditions of mysticism, is non dualism. Non dualism asserts that the ground of being is One. All separations or dualities are formed symbolically by Mind. Some traditions assert that the ground of being is Consciousness or Mind, and that consciousness is One and non separate.
The Buddha taught that all suffering is based on desire, and the frustration of desire to realize its objects. Other traditions describe this in terms of the internal conflicts that are inherent to the dualistic conception of being, and that all conflict and suffering, pain, vanishes in the realization of Oneness and non dualism.
The Buddha's Noble Eight-fold path is at heart, I believe, an ethical system of right behavior. It is a way of conducting oneself in order not to harm others, but rather to aid others in their spiritual growth. It is also an ethical system with regard to oneself, in order to put one's house in order, in support of a life of spiritual aspiration. And it includes the spiritual practices with emphasis on "mindfulness", which basically means "pay attention!" The purpose of mindfulness being to recognize the non dual nature of Mind, and to realize the Void (and according to the Zen tradition to enter into Satori).
I believe there to be a dramatic congruence between the Primal experience and the Satori experience. When our identity fragments our lives become complex and confused, full of unreal symbols that disorient and distract us from our selfhood, our fundamental sense of identity. Eastern mystical traditions characterize Maya, or the world of sense, as illusory from the perspective of the Self or realization of God-head or source.
I believe the feeling experience resolves itself into a sense of unity, integration, oneness, simplicity, whether it be personal or transpersonal. At the personal level it is wholeness of the human self, integration of personal meaning. At the transpersonal level it is the wholeness of cosmic existence, the universal Self, as root consciousness, or the undifferentiated Consciousness that is the basis of cosmic existence.
Thanks for your interesting comments/article, Shane. At one time I would have agreed completely with you, but have now come to believe that a repression of primal pain can also result in the suppression of one's spirituality. Oftentimes long term primalers become more spiritual as they become less neurotic. Can neurotics use a type of spirituality as a defense against feeling their primal pain? I believe that this can and does happen. In any event, it is a complicated subject. And I'm not talking about myself; I have not become more spiritual. But it is only been for the past year or two since I have been feeling "death in the birth canal," and the feeling is nowhere near being resolved. Spiritual and its relationship to represssed trauma is an interesting subject. I don't feel competent enough to comment on other portions of your article. -- John of the PPP
Hi again John and all PPP readers!
As a dedicated self-primaler I visit the PPP now and then, and I've found "so many" interesting articles here. Thank you for your wonderful site!
Now, I've just become a mother to a sweet little baby boy called Tim (eight weeks old 25 March) and I've found one thing - yes, honestly, only "one"! - about being a parent very bothersome. Off course I want to give my child "primal therapy mothering", in order to prevent him from developing neurosis, but that's sometimes very tricky.
Mostly when he cries I know what he needs, it's the breast, a diaper change, more movement etc. But occationally when he cries and rocking him or taking him for a ride in the car "helps", I find myself wondering if it's a need for movement I'm fulfilling, or, if it's in fact a need for having a birth primal that I'm distracting!? Know what I mean? Maybe you, or some other PPP reader, have thought about this too? What are your opinions about this?
Here's the URL to Tim's birth story, an incredible event during which I believe I had a birth primal myself:
Anni in Sweden
Hi Anni. Thanks for writing. Dr. Aletha J. Solter has written an interesting book on this subject. See the review at Tears and Tantrums: What To Do When Babies and Children Cry Dr. Stanislav Grof does mention that giving birth can indeed trigger your own birth feelings! And now I'll go check out Tim's birth story.
-- John of the PPP
April 5, 2000
It's been quite some time since you last heard from me, I can assure you though that I have not missed a thing from this favourite page of yours. Needless to say that I have printed all of your articles and book reviews and I look forward to the second chapter of your diary - biography (when will it be completed?).
The primal world I can liken to a lonesome lighthouse, on top of that there is a lot of stuff and people in this world whom I consider not to be primal at all. I adored Biology of Love since I, unlike you, have a crush on neuroscience and biological psychology. Isn't it a shame that Art's work (so brilliant in putting together brain and behaviour) has been unrecognised as yet by the mainstream of neuropsychiatry blaming it all on genes ("in genes we trust") or some mysterious unrevealed forces?
Why in endless volumes of scientific literature always run into the word "treatment" and find nothing but the magic SSRI's, Ritalin stimulants and all such and people drugging themselves and their children (ADHD)? One day they get diagnosed with ADD, ODD, PDD, OCD, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, borderline personality disorder, psychosis (such fancy names these disorders have) and not one of them has ever wondered "is this about pain?"
Don't they somehow feel the pain? I have come across horrible case histories where a mother states "my 2-year (!!!!) old has ODD and ADHD and he is currently on Ritalin" as all this comes (not so) natural and she has nothing to do with it.
John, since I read Michael Holden's conversion I couldn't help but wonder "are all that he describes hallucinations, is he delusional?" and then came the mail by Pat Torngren (whose story deeply touched me, I plan to contact her) which confirmed my suspicions.
Have you traced as yet his whereabouts? Is it true that Art has cancer? I would truly love to hear from you. I know I will since you are such a kind person (and this is nothing of a compliment).
It was a real struggle to complete that first chapter of my primal diary. There was so much material (my journals) to read through. Hopefully, I can add another chapter this Summer. Happy that you liked it. As for completion, I really doubt if that will ever happen. I would have so many journals to read through; I guess I just don't have the ease with writing as some do.
Yes, you're right, it is unfortunate that the trend in psychiatry is towards nature rather than nurture. With even better drugs on the horizon, I'm sorry to say that the trend towards more repression of feelings will be the future. It can be changed but requires a "one person by one person" conversion and I'm not optimistic.
Dr. Holden has seemed to disappear. No one knows his whereabouts. When I last spoke with him he was still an enthusiastic born-again Christian and also strongly believed in primal therapy.
I had not heard any information that Dr. Janov had cancer. Perhaps, someone reading this can let us know if this is true. Pat Torngren is a dear friend of mine. Her articles which appear in the PPP remain some of the most popular I have. I'll let me know that she will be receving a letter from you. It was nice hearing from you. Sincerely - John of the PPP