|The Multi-Dimensional Psyche|
Interview with Stanislav Grof MD
Dr. Stan Grof is a leading researcher in transpersonal psychology, a field he co-founded with the late Abraham Maslow. Grof's books include "Realms of The Human Unconscious," and "Beyond The Brain."
Alternative Health and Wellness Interview, Russell E. DiCarlo interviews Stanislav Grof, M.D. about his "Holotropic Breathwork", a powerful non-drug approach to self-exploration and therapy that uses faster breathing, evocative music, and a certain kind of energy-releasing bodywork. He explains how non-ordinary states of consciousness are a unique source of deep insights into the deepest recesses of the human psyche.
DiCarlo: You have been a major researcher of non-ordinary states of consciousness for the past thirty-six years. What got you interested at first?
Grof: My interest in this field of research started when I volunteered for an LSD experiment in Prague, Czechoslovakia. My original training was in Freudian psychoanalysis and reading Freud inspired me to study medicine and become a psychiatrist. However, early in my professional career, I developed a deep conflict in relation to psychoanalysis. I continued to be very excited about psychoanalytic theory which seemed to offer brilliant insights into the human psyche and fascinating explanations for various otherwise obscure problems, such as the symbolism of dreams, neurotic symptoms, religion, and what Freud called "psychopathology of everyday life". But I became increasingly disappointed with psychoanalysis as a practical tool of therapy.
About that same time, the psychiatric department in which I was working received a supply of LSD-25 from Sandoz, a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland. They asked us to conduct clinical research with this experimental substance, assess whether or not it had some therapeutic value, and to give them report about our findings. They gave us two initial suggestions regarding its potential uses. First of these was that, in very miniscule doses, this substance could produce "experimental psychoses" -- various perceptual, emotional, and mental changes that occur spontaneously in psychotic patients. And the second suggestion was that this substance could be used as a unique experiential training for psychologists and psychiatrists. It would make it possible for them to experience for several hours the inner world of psychotic patients and to return from there with profound first-hand insights into that world. I became one of the early volunteers in this research program and I had a very profound confrontation with my own unconscious psyche. In a sense, that experience inspired me and influenced the course of my entire professional development over the next thirty six years.
I spent twenty years conducting clinical research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances, first in the Psychiatric Research Institute in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and then in Baltimore, MD, where I served as Clinical and Research Fellow at The Johns Hopkins University. During the second year of my fellowship, Russia invaded Czechoslovakia and I decided to stay. I was offered the position of chief of Psychiatric Research at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center in Catonsville, MD. I remained there until 1973, heading the last surviving government -sponsored psychedelic research project in the United States.
In the last seventeen years, my wife Christina and I have developed "Holotropic Breathwork", a powerful non-drug approach to self-exploration and therapy that uses very simple means, such as faster breathing, evocative music, and a certain kind of energy-releasing bodywork. Non-ordinary states of consciousness induced by this method involve experiences that are very similar to those observed in psychedelic sessions, however, occuring in a much more controlled way. Beside psychedelic therapy and Holotropic Breathwork, I have been also interested in related areas, such as shamanism, Eastern spiritual systems, mysticism, rites of passage of aboriginal cultures, near -death experiences, and psychospiritual crises ("spiritual emergencies); the common denominator in all these situations is that they involve non-ordinary states of consciousness.
DiCarlo: Through your pioneering work, you have developed a means of triggering non-ordinary states of reality in individuals. What might be the value in doing this?
Grof: Non-ordinary states of consciousness are certainly a unique source of deep insights into the deepest recesses of the human psyche. In my opinion their potential significance for psychiatry is comparable to the importance of the microscope for medicine or the telescope for astronomy. It is hard to believe that this area has been largely ignored by traditional psychiatrists and psychologists. I myself have been particularly interested in two aspects of non-ordinary states. First, it has been their extraordinary therapeutic or healing potential, naturally, if they are used properly and under supervision of an experienced guide. Since I am a clinical psychiatrist, this was my primary area of interest. Second, it has been their heuristic potential, that is, what we can learn in or through these states about the psyche, the unconscious, human nature, and the universe.
DiCarlo: In browsing through some professional psychological journals, I noticed that increasingly, some of the prevailing assumptions of traditional psychology are being called into question, such as "Psychological development largely ceases once biological adulthood is reached;" or "Psychological health is nothing more than not being sick;" and "transpersonal or mystical experiences are at best insignificant and at worst, signs of mental illness." As one of the principle architects of the emerging paradigm of psychology, what does your work suggest about the validity of these assumptions?
Grof: To your first point: Transpersonal psychology has amassed ample evidence suggesting that human psychological development can proceed far beyond a good interpersonal and social adjustment and adequate sexual functioning of a mature adult. The author who has written about this in the most articulate way is Ken Wilber. In his books, he offered an impressive and comprehensive synthesis of various schools of Western psychology and Eastern spiritual systems. He described in great detail additional stages of psychological development - the subtle, causal, and absolute. Since all these levels involve the spiritual dimension as a critical element, they require that spirituality be understood as a healthy and evolutionary manifestation, rather than an indication of lack of education or psychopathology.
As far as your second assumption is concerned: The attitude of Western psychiatry that sees mental health as simply the absence of symptoms certainly has to be radically revised. In the new understanding, emotional and psychosomatic symptoms are seen as expressions of the healing process of the organism, not as manifestations of disease. Obviously this applies only to "functional" or psychologically determined disorders and not to clearly organic conditions, such as tumors, infections, or hardening of the arteries of the brain. Nor would it apply in certain states which are clearly manifestations of mental disease, such as severe paranoid conditions. This new understanding can be described as "homeopathic". In the alternative system of medicine known as homeopathy, the symptoms are the seen as expressions of healing, not the disease. Therapy in homeopathy consists of a temporary intensification of the symptoms to achieve wholeness. This approach results in profound healing and positive personality transformation rather than the impoverishment of vitality and functioning that accompanies pharmacological suppression of symptoms. The emphasis on constructive working with symptoms instead of their routine suppression is the first major difference between the strategies based on modern consciousness research and those used in mainstream psychiatry.
With the new strategies, we can do much more than remove the symptoms or reach the goal of psychoanalysis-as defined by Freud in his famous statement : "to change the extreme suffering of the neurotic to the ordinary misery of everyday life." That certainly is not a very ambitious plan, particularly if you consider the amount of time, money, and energy that it takes to undergo psychoanalysis. However, to achieve positive mental health -- increase of zest, joi de vivre, vitality, creativity -- requires to open up to the spiritual dimension of existence. Abraham Maslow conducted extensive research in many hundreds of people who had had spontaneous mystical experiences, or "peak experiences" as he called them. He showed that they were conducive to self-actualization and self-realization and much higher levels of development and functioning than those that conventional psychology talks about.
This brings us to your third point, the problem of spirituality and mystical experiences. This is an issue, which represents the core difference between traditional psychiatry and transpersonal psychology. Mainstream psychiatry is based upon the Cartesian-Newtonian materialistic world view which maintains that the history of the universe is basically the history of developing matter. The only thing that really exists is matter and life, consciousness, and intelligence are its accidental and insignificant side-products.In this kind of a world view, there is no place for spirituality. To be spiritual means to be uneducated, unacquainted with modern scientific discoveries about the nature of the Universe. It means to be involved in superstition, in primitive, or magical thinking. Traditional psychoanalysis explains spirituality as a regression, as a fixation on the infantile stage -a step backwards in development rather than a step forward. In this context, the concept of God is interpreted as projection of your infantile image of your father to the sky. Interest in religious ritual is seen as analogous to obsessive-compulsive behavior of a neurotic and explained as a regression to the anal stage of libidinal development.
DiCarlo: So it is a sort of reductionism, taking what lies beyond our current models of how things work and reducing them to the existing framework and what we already know?
Grof: Yes. And here lies the fundamental difference between traditional psychiatry and transpersonal psychology which considers spirituality to be an intrinsic dimension of the human psyche and a critical factor in the universal scheme of things. This conclusion is not some kind of irrational belief or a speculative metaphysical assumption. It is based on systematic study of non-ordinary states of consciousness in which we can have direct experiences of the spiritual dimensions. These experiences fall into two distinct categories. In the first one are experiences of the Immanent Divine; they involve direct perception of unity underlying the world of separation and a realization that what we experience as material reality is actually manifestation of creative cosmic energy. The second category includes experiences of the Transcendental Divine; here we perceive dimensions of reality that are normally hidden to our senses, such as visions of deities, or archetypal figures as C.G. Jung would call them, and of various mythological domains.
DiCarlo: Could you give me some other examples of the categories of transpersonal experiences that have been described by the thousands of people you have studied over the years that would tend to shatter the assumptions of materialistic science and the traditional world view?
Grof: Traditional psychology and psychiatry have a model of the psyche that is limited to the body, more specifically the brain, which is seen as the source of consciousness, and to post-natal biography, that means to the history of the individual after he or she was born. It tries to explain all psychological processes in terms of the events which took place in infancy and in childhood. In addition, we also have the Freudian individual unconscious, which is basically a derivative of our life experiences. It is a kind of "psychological junkyard" that harbors various unacceptable tendencies that have been repressed.
The model of the psyche that has emerged from modern consciousness research and from transpersonal psychology is incomparably larger and more encompassing. It has additional domains that are extremely important from the theoretical, as well as practical, point of view. For example, the cartography of the unconscious that I have suggested on the basis of my studies of non-ordinary states has, beside the biographical level, two vast additional domains, which I call perinatal and transpersonal. The perinatal level has as its core the record of traumatic experiences associated with biological birth. The memories of the emotions and physical feelings that we experienced during our delivery are often represented here in photographical detail. However, the perinatal level also functions as a kind of gateway into the next domain of the psyche, the transpersonal.
For example, people who relive different stages of birth, often experience simultaneously elements of what C.G. Jung called the "collective unconscious"; this can be either its historical or mythological aspects. Thus people who re-experience the stage of birth where they were stuck in the womb before the cervix opened, might identify with different people throughout history who were in a prison, or who were abused and tortured, such as the victims of the Inquisition and people who were in Nazi concentration camps. Similarly, the reliving of the desperate struggle to free oneself from the clutches of the birth canal after the cervix dilated can be associated with images of revolutions and with experiential identification with freedom fighters of all ages.
These experiences of one's birth can also open into archetypal visions of the collective unconscious. People who feel stuck in the womb can experience themselves as being in hell, with actual experiences of the demonic figures or of infernal landscapes as we know them from mythology and from religious art. Similarly, individuals who re-experience the difficult propulsion through the birth canal at the stage of birth when the cervix is open often describe archetypal visions of various deities who represent death and re-birth such as Osiris, Adonis, Attis, Persephone, and Dionysus. They might also have the visions of crucifixion or actually experience death and resurrection in full identification with Jesus Christ.
Beside the perinatal level, we have another vast transbiographical domain, the transpersonal level. As I have described earlier, some people can first get in touch with the transpersonal realm in connection with the death-rebirth process; however, others experience it independently in a pure form. The spectrum of transpersonal experiences is extremely rich. Beside the already mentioned elements of the historical and mythological collective unconscious, it is possible to experience convinced identification with various animals, plants, and other aspects of nature and of the cosmos. A particularly important type of transpersonal experiences are karmic or "past-life" memories. These experiences can suddenly catapult us into another century, another country, and another culture. They are extremely vivid, intense, and convincing and are typically accompanied with a sense of personal remembering ("what I am experiencing now is not happening to me for the first time, I once actually was this person living in that historical period"). In many instances people are able to bring from these experiences astonishing and accurate new information about the times and cultures which they had visited. We have also observed that past life experiences have an amazing therapeutic potential.
DiCarlo: Why should a person consider that the types of experiences you have just described are more than simple fantasies and imaginations produced by the brain?
Grof: This is the attitude that is usually taken by those people who have traditional scientific training. But if you really study these experiences, as I have done for the last thirty-six years, you find out that the situation is much more complex.The information that these experiences tend to provide is often incredibly rich and specific and of such a kind that it could not have possibly been acquired through the ordinary channels. It is not something that one can get from teachers, books, movies, or television. Identification with animals typically involves dimensions that can not be conveyed by traditional means, for example, specific non-human instinctual feelings, body sensations, and emotions. In experiences involving other cultures and historical periods, it can be very detailed information about architecture, costumes, weapons, and social organizations of various societies. In some instances, the information concerns specific historical events and can be verified by independent research in historical archives.
Also, people frequently discover that their past life experiences are in some way connected to their present life situation. For example, certain emotional and psychosomatic problems which could not be explained or alleviated by various forms of traditional therapy, disappear after a profound experience of this kind. In addition, karmic experiences are often associated with meaningful synchronicities. For example, a person has a difficult relationship with another person and has a past life experience that shows the two of them engaged in some sort of violent conflict. One of them is the victim and the other the aggressor. If this person completes reliving that incident and reaches a sense of forgiveness, his or her attitude towards the other protagonist changes in the positive direction. That is in itself impressive and interesting. However, what is quite extraordinary is that at exactly the same time a significant change in the same direction often occurs in the other person, whose attitude is also radically changed. This can happen even if there was not a conventional communication or connection of any kind between these two persons.
These observations suggest that the belief in reincarnation is not a product of wishful thinking or some superficial metaphysical speculation; it is clearly a pragmatic concept, reflecting an effort to understand the complexity of these experiences that spontaneously emerge in non-ordinary states. Psychiatrists who deny that the phenomenon of reincarnation is a fascinating and legitimate field of study are obviously not very familiar with non-ordinary states of consciousness and, more specifically, with the complex and fascinating nature of karmic experiences.
DiCarlo: Would you say your cartography of the psyche tracks the perennial philosophy-the inner teachings which all religions throughout the ages seem to share? Does it correlate with the experiences of saints and mystics who have peered into these other domains?
Grof: Very much so. I have written a book called The Cosmic Game that specifically explores the insights from non-ordinary states of consciousness regarding the "Big Picture" of life. The book shows the deep similarities between the experiences that many people have reported to us in our research and those described by different systems of perennial philosophy. The book also shows how the insights into the nature of reality -- matter, time, space, consciousness -- strikingly converge with the concepts that characterize what has been called the new or emerging paradigm in Western science. In other words, the insights that people get into the nature of the cosmos in non-ordinary states are in fundamental conflict with the old, Cartesian-Newtonian world view, but are very similar in nature to descriptions that we find in quantum-relativistic physics and other avenues of the new paradigm.
DiCarlo: Could you briefly state what some of these insights have been?
Grof: For example, the Newtonian understanding of the world is that matter is indestructible, objects are solid, time is linear, and space is three-dimensional. The universe is a totally deterministic mechanical system, where everything is connected through chains of causes and effects. In the worldview of traditional science, the material world exists objectively in an unambiguous way. The observer reflects more or less accurately this "objective reality", but his or her presence does not change anything - the world is uninfluenced through the act of observation.
In non-ordinary states, the material world is experienced as a dynamic process where there are no solid structures and everything is a flow of energy. Everything is perceived as patterns of energy and behind patterns of energy there are patterns of experience. Reality appears to be the result of an incredibly precise orchestration of experiences and the observer plays a very important role in the creation of the universe. This is exactly the picture that is now emerging from various areas of new paradigm science. It has become apparent that consciousness has a very fundamental role in the cosmos. It is not a side-product of inert, dead, and inactive matter that somehow appeared in the universe more or less accidentally after billions of years of evolution. Consciousness and creative intelligence permeate all of nature and the entire universe has an underlying master blueprint. This is also an image that comes very close to the mystical worldview and to the understanding that one finds in the Eastern spiritual philosophies.
DiCarlo: So you would be in agreement with Willis Harman's M-3 metaphysical assumption, that consciousness is primary, that it existed before matter?
Grof: Very much so, in view of my own findings, it is the only perspective that makes any sense. As I briefly mentioned earlier, in transpersonal states of mind, one can subjectively experience identification with other people, with animals, with plants, and even with inorganic materials and processes. Everything that one can experience in the everyday state of consciousness as an object, has in the non-ordinary state of consciousness a subjective correlate. This shows that the psyche and consciousness of each of us is, in the last analysis, commensurate with "All-That-Is", because there are no absolute boundaries between the bodyego and the totality of existence. In this sense, we can experience ourselves as anything between the bodyego and the totality of cosmic consciousness, or the creative principle itself. That is very reminiscent of the message of the Upanishads, "Thou Art That" ( You are Godhead, identical with the creative principle of the universe).
There exists substantial evidence that consciousness is not a by-product of matter, an epiphenomenon of the neurophysiological processes in our brain, but a primary attribute of existence. The material reality is a creation of cosmic consciousness. To use modern terminology, the world we live in is "virtual reality", created by the technology of consciousness. In the course of this century, quantum-relativistic physics has seriously undermined the belief in the tangible and unambiguous nature of our material reality. It has thrown a new light on the ancient Buddhist idea that form is emptiness and emptiness is form. In the subatomic analysis, matter in the usual sense of the word, disappears and what remains is pattern, relation, mathematical order -- elements which we would certainly associate with consciousness rather than matter.
DiCarlo: Would you suggest that the transpersonal domains of the psyche which you describe, are other-than -physical realities, with a life and vitality of their own? That independent of the person who may be perceiving them, these domains of experience exist with their own inhabitants, their own natural laws and their own phenomenon?
Grof: Traditional science claims in a very authoritarian way that the material universe which we experience through our five senses, is the only existing reality. And if we experience other realities, such as historical or archetypal elements of the collective unconscious, these are seen as illusory experiences derived from the perceptions and memories of this world. In other words, transpersonal experiences are fantasies or hallucinations. This position is presented as an evident scientific fact that has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt, but a closer examination clearly shows that it is an unfounded metaphysical assumption. Modern consciousness research actually has brought ample evidence that there are other experiential dimensions of reality with specific and demonstrable characteristics. To borrow an analogy from electronics, material reality is just one "holographic cosmic channel". There are other "channels" that are equally real or unreal as this one.
DiCarlo: Would you also be in agreement with people such as Robert Monroe who has reportedly explored different dimensional levels of reality in his "out-of-body" experiences?
Robert Monroe has developed some very effective means of inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness, with special emphasis on those that are conducive to out-of-body experiences. In non-ordinary states, the sharp difference between what is "real" and what is "unreal" tends to disappear. Our ordinary material world appears less real and the world of the archetypal beings and other aspects of the transpersonal world become very convincing and believable. Careful study reveals that they are more than fantasies or hallucinations. Once we realize that in both instances we are dealing with "virtual realities", the distinction between what is "real" and what is derived becomes rather arbitrary. In view of all that we have discussed earlier, at least some of the experiences that Robert Monroe describes represent legitimate and relevant dimensions of existence.
DiCarlo: What would you say is the new image of the human being that is emerging from your research and also from the new sciences?
Grof: The traditional point of view of Western materialistic science is that we are Newtonian objects, made up of atoms, molecules, cells, tissues and organs, that we are highly developed animals and biological thinking machines. If we seriously consider all the data amassed in the last few decades by modern consciousness research, we discover that this point of view is incorrect, or at least incomplete. It is just one partial aspect of a much more complex picture. It can be maintained only when we suppress all the evidence from parapsychology and the study of non-ordinary states of consciousness, such as mystical , psychedelic, and near-death experiences, or trance phenomena and meditation. In all these situation, we can also function as fields of consciousness which can transcend space, time, and linear causality.
Quantum-relativistic physicists have a definition of sub-atomic matter and also of light that combines in a paradoxical fashion two seemingly incompatible aspects of these phenomena. This is the wave-particle paradox described by Niels-Bohr's principle of complementarity. To understand the nature of subatomic matter or light, you have to accept that they are phenomena which can have characteristics of both particles and waves. These are two complementary aspects of the same phenomena and each of them manifests under different circumstances. We are now discovering that something similar applies to human beings. We are Newtonian objects, highly developed biological thinking machines, but we are also infinite fields of consciousness that transcend time, space, and linear causality. These are two complementary aspects of who we are and each of them manifest under different circumstances, the first in the ordinary state of consciousness, the other when we enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness.
DiCarlo: In your work, you discuss "spiritual emergencies". What are they, and how are these episodes dealt with in the old paradigm of psychiatry?
Grof: The most important thing is to realize that traditional psychology and psychiatry do not make a distinction between a mystical experience and a psychotic experience. From a traditional point of view, all forms of non-ordinary states of consciousness-with the exception of dreams where there is a certain tolerance-would be interpreted as pathological phenomena. Strictly speaking, Western psychiatry has pathologized the entire history of spirituality.
Transpersonal psychology, on the other hand, is interested in spirituality, which is something that you find in the mystical branches or in the monastic branches of the great religions. Spirituality is based on direct experience of the transpersonal realms or "numinous" dimensions of reality, either in terms of the Immanent Divine or the Transcendental Divine, as we discussed earlier. "Numinosity" is a word that C.G. Jung used in lieu of such expressions as religious, sacred, or mystical that might be confusing and have often been misunderstood.
At the cradle of each major religion are direct spiritual or transpersonal experiences of the founders, saints, and prophets. Buddha meditating under the Bo tree experienced the onslaught of Kama Mara, the master of the world illusion, and his terrifying army. The Koran and the Moslem religion were inspired by the "miraculous journey of Mohammed", a visionary experience during which he was guided by archangel Gabriel through the seven heavens, the paradise, and the infernal regions of Gehenna. Similarly Jesus, according to the Bible, had a powerful visionary encounter with the devil during which he was exposed to his temptations. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament abound in descriptions of transpersonal experiences reflecting connection and communication with God and with angels. We have seen many similar experiences in the holotropic breathwork sessions, in psychedelic therapy, as well as during spontaneous psychospiritual crises ("spiritual emergencies"). We could add to the list St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Anthony, and many other Christian saints and Desert Fathers, as well as Ramakrishna and Shri Ramana Maharshi-they all had powerful visionary experiences of one kind or another.
According to traditional psychiatry, all these people would be seen as psychotics or people suffering from some other serious psychiatric condition. We actually have many psychiatric articles and books that discuss which psychiatric diagnosis would be most appropriate for the founders of various religions, their prophets, and saints. Franz Alexander, a famous psychoanalyst and founder of psychosomatic medicine, even wrote a paper entitled Buddhist Meditation as an Artificial Catatonia, putting spiritual practice into a pathological context.
Similarly, anthropologists argue whether shamans should be viewed as hysterics, epileptics, schizophrenics, or maybe ambulant psychotics. Many people who have transpersonal experiences are automatically treated as psychotics, people suffering from a mental disease, because psychiatrists do not make a distinction between a mystical experience and a psychotic experience.
The concept of spiritual emergency suggests that many episodes of non-ordinary states of consciousness that are currently diagnosed as psychoses and treated by suppressive medication are actually crises of transformation and spiritual opening. Instead of routine suppression through drugs, we should give these people support and guidance to help them through these experiences. When properly understood and properly guided, these states can result in emotional and psychosomatic healing and positive personality transformation.
DiCarlo: So far from being a sign of illness, such episodes presage unfoldment of our true spiritual nature, allowing for the full expression of that aspect of who we are?
Grof: Yes, my wife Christina and I wrote a book The Stormy Search for the Self, in which we expressed our belief that the possibility of spiritual emergence - spiritual opening, growth, and development - is something inherent to human nature. And that the need for spiritual experiences represents a very strong force in human personality. Andrew Weil expressed a similar opinion in his book the Natural Mind ; he suggested that our need for the transcendental experience is a force that is more powerful than sex. If you look back at human history, you will find that many people have invested enormous amounts of energy in the spiritual quest . They have also made tremendous sacrifices for this purpose -- the sacrifice of material possessions, professional careers, as well as of personal and sexual life. In transpersonal psychology, the impulse toward spirituality is viewed as a very natural and very powerful drive in human beings. In Western culture, we have lost all socially sanctioned contexts in which people can experience non-ordinary states of consciousness and have spiritual experiences. Our attitude toward spirituality is certainly peculiar. There is a bible in every motel room and even leading politicians pay lipservice to God; but if a person would have a powerful spiritual experience in the church, an average minister would send them to a psychiatrist.
DiCarlo: Would you say that someone has to have this contact with the transpersonal to shift their world view? Can a person change their world view simply by reading a book that causes them to change their beliefs about the way things are?
Grof: You generally will not convince people, particularly Westerners, about the significance of the spiritual dimension just by giving them books to read. The critical factor in a genuine spiritual opening will probably always be a direct personal experience, since it is very difficult to describe the spiritual dimensions in a way that is meaningful. The obvious parallel that comes to mind is sexuality. It would be very difficult to explain to a pre-adolescent what sexual orgasm is like, convey how important sexuality is in adult human life and why, or to discuss the difficulties that might be associated with sex. They would not be able to understand, since they do not have an experiential frame of reference. But once the person has a sexual experience, there comes an instant understanding of that entiree domain.
However, there are many people who go through spiritual emergence in a much more subtle way than the one we describe in our book, The Stormy Search for The Self. William James calls such a gradual opening "the educational variety". It can begin by reading some books and hearing some lectures, attending spiritual groups, and undergoing some subtle forms of transformation in meditation and other spiritual practices.
DiCarlo: Abductions by extraterrestrials, encounters with angels, Near-Death Experiences, past life memories..is there any underlying significance to these phenomena that ties them all together in your view?
Grof: From my point of view, all of these experiences represent different forms of contact with the transpersonal dimension of reality, with the historical and archetypal domains of the collective unconscious. Under favorable circumstances, they can have very positive consequences, but they are also associated with definite risks and pitfalls. Experiential contact with the archetypal domain in and of itself is not necessarily beneficial. It is possible to get inflated by identifying with an archetype, and it can leave you in a state of grandiosity. For example, some people who experience identification with Jesus Christ , which is a very common experience in non-ordinary states, can end up believing that they are actually the historical Jesus. Another common pitfall is to experience one's own divinity (in the sense of the Tat tvam asi of the Upanishads) and attaching this insight to one's body ego (I am God and that makes me special). Many difficulties result from indiscriminate talking about the experiences with friends, family, or business associates who are unable to understand them. Unfortunately, in view of the present ignorance concerning non-ordinary states, this group also includes traditional psychiatrists.
In general, if we have transpersonal experiences, have the right context for understanding them, and are able to integrate them well, we are learning about important dimensions of reality and that has to be beneficial and enhancing. Fortunately, as the sophistication in regard to non-ordinary states is gradually increasing in general population and among professionals, more and more people will be able to experience the transpersonal realm with adequate support and under favorable conditions.
Excerpted from the book Towards A New World View: Conversations At The Leading Edge with Russell E. DiCarlo. The 377-page book features new and inspiring interviews with 27 paradigm pioneers in the fields of medicine, psychology, economics, business, religion, science, education and human potential. Featuring: Willis Harman, Matthew Fox, Joan Boysenko, George Leonard, Gary Zukav, Robert Monroe, Hazel Henderson, Fred Alan Wolf, Peter Senge, Jacquelyn Small, Elmer Green, Larry Dossey, Carolyn Myss, Stan Grof, Rich Tarnas, Marilyn Ferguson, Marsha Sinetar, Dr. Raymond Moody, Stephen Covey and Peter Russell.
Russell E. DiCarlo is a medical writer, author, lecturer and workshop leader who's focus is on personal transformation, consciousness research and the fields of energy and anti-aging medicine. His forthcoming book is entitled "The Definitive Guide To Anti-Aging Medicine" (1998, Future Medicine Publishing). DiCarlo resides in Erie, Pennsylvania.