Psychology of the Future
By Stanislav Grof
Summary by Pat Clendenen
Most of us in our ordinary
state of consciousness identify with only a small part of who we really are. In
nonordinary states of consciousness we have the ability to access a deep inner
intelligence that guides us through the healing and transformation process.
These states can lead to real spiritual experiences, as differentiated from
religious dogma. In this way nonordinary states have the ability to help us
understand human consciousness and present us with the potential to evolve.
One nonordinary state of
consciousness is the holotropic state. This word means moving in the direction
of wholeness. A therapy entitled Holotropic Breathwork can induce this state by
means of breath work, music and bodywork. While remaining in our ordinary state
we can simultaneously experience other dimensions of existence. These
experiences can be intense.
Indigenous cultures around
the world routinely induced holotropic states by means of chanting, drumming,
breath work, meditation, dance, psychedelic materials, etc. Shamans in ancient
cultures induced these states at will for the purpose of healing. Archeological
evidence dating back 30,000 to 40,000 years indicates the primal mind was
engaged in these states and that the ordinary state of consciousness was
transcended. There is evidence these states were induced by the Sumerians,
Egyptians, Greeks, etc. in their secret and sacred rituals involving death and
In the early years of the
development of psychological theory, holotropic states played a role in treating
clients. As time passed, psychotherapy drifted away from this modality. Modern
psychotherapy tends to treat these states as disease and often prescribes
medication to alleviate symptoms. Psychedelic therapy in particular has a stigma
surrounding it due to prevalent unsupervised use in the 1960s.
Holotropic states are
being rediscovered as a therapy. This is leading to a change in our
understanding of consciousness. With this change in understanding a new model is
needed which encompasses modern psychotherapy and holotropic therapy.
Traditional therapy is
biographical in orientation, calling on memories from infancy, childhood and
later life. In addition to this material holotropic therapy can extend these
memories to the birth experience and beyond. Memories of the trauma of birth are
called perinatal. Beyond the perinatal experience is the transpersonal realm.
Transpersonal means experiencing beyond the personal or beyond the boundaries of
our skin and ego. Each of these experiential states can be divided into sub
groups consistent with the variations in experience.
generally entail having the experience of the memory. They tend to be more
sensory and physical in nature such as the experience of drowning or of
suffocating. The emotions and physical sensations of the experience are re
experienced in these states. These states also seem to automatically bring to
consciousness memories with the strongest emotional charge.
In the perinatal state we
remember the trauma of birth which is an experience of dying to an aquatic world
and being born into an air breathing world. The process of birth has four stages
beginning with the experience of the fetus prior to birth and three distinct
birthing stages which follow. Each of these three stages results in a different
and unique experience for the child. These experiences are very traumatic and
important and have life long physical and spiritual implications.
The transpersonal states
go beyond the biographical and perinatal states. In these states we transcend
our physical skin boundary and our ego boundary. The first transpersonal state
is experienced within the field of space and time and might include:
identification with other persons, oneness with life and all creation,
experiences of extraterrestrial beings and worlds, etc. The second state goes
beyond space and time to include: spiritistic and mediumistic experiences,
encounters with spirit guides, experience of cosmic consciousness, etc. The
third state is characterized by a sort of interaction between the internal and
external worlds such as: synchronicities, spiritual healing, ceremonial magic,
holotropic states informs us that we can obtain information about our world in
new ways. We can learn by intimately experiencing that which we seek. Once we
have had these experiences the next step in our evolution would be learning to
live from them in our daily lives. It has not yet been determined how we can
permanently hold these states in our consciousness. This new model of
consciousness has widespread implications not only for psychology but also for
Western science and philosophy.
suggests that the root of many psychological disorders goes much deeper than the
biographical information that has been used in traditional psychological
therapy. In fact many of these so called disorders are actually spiritual
emergencies and hold the potential for deep healing. In traditional therapy
medications are prescribed in an attempt to suppress symptoms. In the holotropic
model this is not thought to be warranted, rather the deeper root cause is to be
experienced and through this experience alleviated. The term spiritual emergency
is associated with growth through holotropic therapy. It denotes the potential
through these states to emerge into a higher level of spiritual awareness.
We in the west are coming
to realize that in the pursuit of our materialistic, technologically driven
lifestyle we have left behind the spiritual life. We are now realizing that
profound personal experiences on the inward journey bring richness and meaning
to our lives. Individually we feel that our lives are missing something, that we
are somehow alienated. On the collective level this has resulted in a global
crisis where we are not respecting our planet and its life giving resources.
Each person and all people, as well as the earth herself, will benefit from the
emerging shift to an inner, spiritual life.
Spiritual emergencies can
be triggered by a variety of occurrences from physical and emotional trauma to
failures and disappointments in our professional and personal lives. It appears
that an individual’s readiness is the most important factor in awakening.
Holotropic therapy is not appropriate for everyone. If a person is aware of what
is happening and is open to transpersonal experiences they are thought to be a
good candidate for this approach. Individuals who do not have this insight, who
use projection as a primary means to deal with their problems or who suffer from
persecutory delusions are not good candidates.
It is difficult to
categorize spiritual emergencies since each individual psyche is a
multidimensional and multilevel system with no boundaries. Broad categories have
been established with many overlaps. These categories include shamanic crisis,
communication with spirit guides, UFO experiences, near death experiences and
Treatment of spiritual
emergencies differs with the intensity of the experience. These treatments
include talking with a transpersonally trained therapist, regular sessions of
experiential therapy and encouraging the individual to surrender to the
experience they are having. These basic approaches can be supplemented with
Gestalt practices, sandplay, bodywork, writing, painting mandalas, dancing,
jogging, swimming or other sport activity. For people who are in an experience
of extreme spiritual emergence no in residence facility exits with a holotropic,
Traditional therapy often
does not get to the root of the problem. The therapist is seen as the one
knowledgeable and in charge of the session. The client is a hopefully willing
but sometimes passive participant. This form of therapy focuses on suppression
of symptoms usually through medication. In the holotropic therapy model the goal
is to bring the root cause of symptoms to full awareness so that they can be
resolved and released.
Holotropic therapy assumes
each individual normally identifies primarily with their physical body and ego,
thereby not living up to full potential. This false identification leads to many
emotional and psychosomatic problems. In a holotropic session unconscious
material is brought to consciousness. This process is guided by the individuals
own inner healing instinct. The therapist supports the process. Inherent in this
process is an expanded awareness beyond the limited body/ego awareness.
Breathing in a holotropic
session consists of rapid, deep, cyclical breathing tying the inhalation to the
exhalation. This loosens psychological defenses and allows repressed material to
surface. Drumming, chanting, music of a high quality but with little content and
in a foreign language, if vocal, is used to further enhance the holotropic
state. These forms of sound have been used in rituals since ancient times. In
most sessions a natural releasing of bodily tension occurs as the session
progresses to emotional release. If this does not happen naturally, the
individual is assisted by a holotropic therapist. The session concludes with the
individual drawing or painting a mandala followed by group sharing. Holotropic
sessions are of a few hours’ duration. Usually individuals experience powerful
changes within the span of one session. This compares to traditional therapy
which may take long periods of time and not show comparable results.
One important aspect of
the holotropic state is that it gives the individual new information concerning
extrasensory channels. Aldous Huxley experienced these states and concluded that
the brain could not be the source of them. He concluded that the brain acts as a
reducing valve that protects the individual from the infinitely large cosmos.
All pre industrial people
had a rich spiritual life with direct experiential knowledge of the non material
world. They believed this aspect of life was essential to understand and live
in the material world. This orientation to reality is very different from that
prevalent in the industrial world today where only matter exists. Western
science believes that consciousness is a product of the physical brain even
though absolutely no proof exists that this is true.
Holotropic states are
important to our evolution since they can give us a direct experience of the
spiritual dimension of life in a way that is as real as our everyday material
world. This naturally leads to a discussion of spirituality as differentiated
from religion. The spiritual path is a very personal inward experience. Most
religions are based on the visions of a mystic in a holotropic state. However as
time has passed this original teaching has become clouded. Most religious
organizations today discourage direct spiritual experience since knowledge of
the inner path results in independent thinking and individuals cannot then be
controlled by religious dogma. A deep mystical experience dissolves boundaries
and fosters knowledge of oneness and wholeness. Religions are divisive. They
unite people within the religious group and often pit them against anyone
outside the group. In this way organized religion is a very big part of the
global problem in our modern world. It is the rare individual who continues to
subscribe to the Western materialistic worldview after a holotropic experience.
Holotropic states also
bring clarity to the experience of death and dying. In ancient cultures the
world over death and the acceptance of it was recognized for its tremendous
healing powers. Biological death was not thought to be the end of existence.
Life was thought to continue in some form beyond death.
Our modern Western culture
has adopted a denial of death. We trivialize it and sanitize it, even turn it
into entertainment. Experiential encounters with death, through the holotropic
experience, meditation, and near death, out of body, and psychedelic experiences
can and often times do lead to a richer, fuller life and a deeper more real
spiritual experience. These experiences can lead to dropping the fear of death
which in turn leads to deep healing within the individual. This healing
experience has wide social implications. This inner personal transformation may
be an important factor in ending wars and healing our planet.
When the inner process
reaches this transpersonal level, most people begin asking basic questions about
why they are here. Who is in charge? Is anyone or anything in charge? What is
my role? What is my relationship to whomever or whatever is in charge? Do I
have many lifetimes or one? Am I fulfilling my destiny? Do I have a destiny?
Research over many years
with people who have experienced these transpersonal states shows that their
visions are of an infinitely complex virtual reality created and permeated by
superior cosmic intelligence. These visions seem to mirror ancient mystical
traditions and their teachings. Modern science in its new or emerging paradigm
is coming to these same realizations.
It is common in holotropic
states for people to have experiences of oneness with all life - plants and
animals - as well as inorganic material. Everything can appear to have
consciousness in the holotropic state. These visions were common in ancient
cultures - they were called deities or demons. It’s as though our psyche has
access to all mythological figures and worlds. Carl Jung called these universal
patterns the collective unconscious. These visions can be a sort of bridge to
the divine and are not to be confused with it.
These visions or
experiences of the absolute or divine have certain attributes in common:
transcending the analytical mind; not bound by space or time; transcending
duality; a field of light, consciousness and infinite intelligence; and a cosmic
sense of humor. At times there is a feeling of merging with the divine and at
times a feeling of being the observer or witness of it. Full understanding of
these states requires direct experience.
The result of having these
deep experiences allows people to realize their own divine nature and their
identity with the source. This is the most important discovery that can be made
on the inner spiritual journey and is at the heart of all great wisdom
If it is true that these
states are our true birthright then why do we feel separate? Why must we
journey to realize what is already true? One explanation is that the
intention of this divine play we find ourselves in may simply be to offer us an
adventure in consciousness. A good actor or actress can sometimes over identify
with their role and merge with the character they are playing. So can we in this
divine play. In order to find our way out of this merged state we must turn
inside to a systematic inner quest. As we have more and more experiences of the
transpersonal realms, we loosen our identity with our role in the play. Life
becomes easier and more fun. This inner search eventually leads to the emptiness
behind all forms - including our own. We are ultimately experienced as our own
illusion. The fear of death is transcended. It is important to regularly access
the transpersonal realms in order to maintain this material/spiritual balance.
Consciousness research and
transpersonal psychology can help us understand the current global crisis and
help alleviate it. Throughout history people have committed many acts of war and
atrocity, many in the name of god. People have been driven by a need for
violence and greed in their lives. In our modern times we continue to make war
on each other. We now are also making war on our home planet by over consuming
and not being responsible stewards. We continue to produce weapons of greater
and greater destruction realizing that deployment of these weapons may some day
destroy all life on the planet. It has not been shown that peace is assured by
strength. Just the opposite appears to be true.
This proclivity toward
violence and greed is psychospiritual. It reflects the level of consciousness
evolution of our human species. Holotropic states and transpersonal psychology
can provide deeper understanding of these dangerous elements in the human psyche
and ways of confronting and overcoming them. As each individual turns inward and
undergoes deep transformation, the species evolves. Hopefully in time.
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