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 Conversations Toward a New World View: The Multi-Dimensional Psyche 
 
Interview with Stanislav Grof MD
   as interviewed by Russell E. DiCarlo

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.

Copyright 1996. Epic Publishing. All Rights Reserved. Cell AnemiaalU3?)(?¹

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