Friday, February 5, 2016

Stanislav Graf: Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness

Today, I’m going to introduce you to Stanislav Grof. Born in Prague in the former Czechoslovakia in 1931, he began his studies in medicine, and obtained an M.D. and Ph.D. Since then, he’s embraced over sixty years of professional training and experience in psychiatry and psychology. In his 80s today, after years of “traditional talking therapy” in his early adulthood, he had a life changing encounter with LSD, and from there went on to become one of the founders of Transpersonal Psychology—integrates the spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience with the framework of modern psychology (Wikipedia).

OMG! Squee! Heart bursts! That is how I felt reading the TABLE OF CONTENTS of Stanislav and Christina Grof’s: Holotropic Breathing. (Christina is Grof’s wife and they have worked together to develop their method of achieving non-ordinary states of consciousness through, well, holotropic breathing [accelerated breathing].)

You have to understand, my path, which has been always a bit rebellious, often incoherent, and not rarely meandering, nonsensical, and odd, has always been dancing in some Venn diagram of body/movement, mind/psychology and soul/spirit/spirituality/wholeness. I’m always circling around those issues, sometimes dive-bombing one or the other, but really always and only interested in their points of contact.

Because … well, they really cannot be separated. I mean if you want to talk about ILLUSIONS, one of the greatest ones is that: our bodies, our minds, and our souls are somehow separate. I know. I know. Everyone wants to go on and on about how We. Are. One. Humanity. The species. Doesn’t the thought just make you want to run and scream, hands waving in the air. I am God, you are God, we are all inseparable, after all, skeletons don’t exist, and, well, we’re really all just one ginormous amoebic blob. Hehe. I don’t think so. But that’s fine if you do. You’re probably AWAKENED. But paradox abounds, so as much as the essence (or Whatever) of the Divine is in us, we are ALSO separate, discrete, unique … umm … individuals.

She twirls in the sun.
AND … I am certain that my body, my mind, and my soul/spirit/what have you ARE one. A continuum of me. Just like your body, your mind, and your spirit are a continuum of you. Honestly, this is why I used to just cringe at church potlucks. Have you ever been to one? Seen the crap people bring? The amount of food they shove in their pie holes and then what, pray? Expect to receive some revelation about the scripture when you can barely waddle out of your chair?

Hmm … I don’t think so. And no, I’m not for asceticism. But, come on.

Okay, a personal pet peeve. Yes, I do have a few, and I’ll be discussing another one next Tuesday. THE BIGGIE as far as I’m concerned.

Back to the Grofs—because they are A-Mazing—and that table of contents, for their book, well, here are some of the chapter headings that had me wanting to throw a consciousness, we-might-just-not-destroy-the-world party:

Holotropic states of consciousness: MIND (And what does holotropic mean? “oriented toward wholeness” or “moving toward wholeness”, “it is related to heliotropic—the property of pants to always turn in the direction of the sun [light]”)
Dimensions of the human psyche: MIND
The role of spirituality in human life: SPIRITUALITY
The nature of reality—Psyche, cosmos, and consciousness: MIND & SPIRITUALITY
The healing power of breath: BODY
Healing of emotions and psychosomatic disorders: BODY & MIND
Favorable effect on physical diseases: BODY
Effect on personality, worldview, life strategy, and hierarchy of values: BODY, MIND, & SPIRITUALITY
Potential for healing of cultural wounds and historical conflict resolution: MIND & SPIRITUALITY Healing as a movement toward wholeness: MIND, BODY, & SPIRITUALITY

See?!? It’s a single book, one lovely book, about all three of my favorite things!!!

From the Foreword: (ummm … you had me at hello!)

… the Grofs offer a comprehensive vision of mental health and of human growth potential that extends the range of psychology to dimensions of the perinatal, the transpersonal, the transcultural, and the mystical. Their work organically incorporates the indigenous wisdom of shamanism and the natural world, the cultural and historical basis of consciousness, and the far-reaching breadth of modern physics and systems theory. In it the personal and the universal are equally valued, the physical and the biographical, the cultural, evolutionary, and spiritual dimensions of our humanity are included.

Wow. I think it’s all covered!

Here are the five major shifts away from tradition psychological theory/practice that the framework of holographic breathwork makes:

1. Extending the cartography of the “Freudian” psyche from post-natal experiences and the individual unconscious to include peri-natal (memory of biological birth) experiences and transpersonal consciousness.

This is actually a huge leap as transpersonal consciousness would be vast: potentially including the ancestral, archetypal, collective, karmic, imaginal, mythological, Cosmic and more.

The idea that peri-natal experiences contribute significantly to our psychological make-up is intriguing. If you think about it, moving from un-embodied, formless being/consciousness into body/form being/consciousness is probably quite a trip.

2. Relying upon the direction/guidance provided by the individual’s “inner healing intelligence” as opposed to the external analysis/interpretation of a degreed/trained doctor, professional.

Everything always comes back to the unlimited creativity of the Cosmos. We are, after all, snowflakes. Therefore, theories, models, generalizations simply fall apart the closer and closer you get to truth.

3. Recognizing the limitations of exclusively verbal strategies in therapy.

If the body does indeed hold trauma, just talking about it is not going to be adequate to relieve those blockages.

4. Valuing non-ordinary states of consciousness that are commonly perceived as pathological.

“From a psychiatric perspective to take [spiritual] things seriously, means to be ignorant, unfamiliar with the discoveries of science, superstitious, and subject to primitive magical thinking. If the belief in the God or Goddess occurs in intelligent persons, it is seen as an indication that they have not come to terms with infantile images of their parents as omnipotent beings they had created in their infancy and childhood. And direct experiences of spiritual realizes are considered manifestations of serious mental diseases—psychoses."—Grof.

5. Considering states of consciousness as a fundamental aspect of the universe and that the brain mediates or moderates consciousness rather than “produces” consciousness from matter.

I love this. Let it sink in. We're swimming in a vast reservoir of consciousness that our individual brains mediate or moderate with unfathomable uniqueness.

The book Holotropic Breathwork provides a pretty thorough coverage of the kind of therapy that has evolved from the Grofs' lifework, although it won't teach you how to do it, as it's recommended to be experienced with a trained facilitator.

“Holtropic Breathwork is a powerful self-exploration and therapy that uses the combination of seemingly simple means—accelerated breathing, evocative music, and a type of bodywork that helps the residual bioenergetic and emotional blocks.”

Now, I’m not a shill for the Grofs, nor have I experienced their brand of breathwork, but my curiosity is piqued and if I ever have a chance to attend one of their workshops, I likely will.

However, whether or not one participates in the breathwork, the advances the Grofs have made in understanding the inner life of the individual in relation to the cosmos is a Door-Opener. There IS much more to us, around us, and beyond us than most of us perceive.

If you put together things like: the unified field, a loving Source, form and formlessness, psychological life and biological life, and an individual spiritual drive that seems inherent in all of us (expressed in radically different ways of course!), the Grofs’ work makes a lot of sense, and certainly seems to orient our concept of ourselves and the world we live in in a constructive direction.

How does this relate to mysticism?

Well, number 1 and number 4. That extended cartography of consciousness accessible through the non-ordinary states of consciousness, have been “described by mystics of all ages …” and “Procedures inducing these states were also developed and used in the context of the great religions of the world—Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.”—Grow

Then, there’s number 2. Mysticism is always about plugging into a broader intelligence, a larger Self, of which, self-healing is an attribute.

And, number 3. Mystical experiences are simply beyond the verbal.

Finally, number 5. Us as mediators of Cosmic Consciousness. The more quantum theory reveals, the more the experiences and revelations received by mystics throughout time are validated, and the bridge between science and spirituality is strengthened.

Want more Grof? I thought so. Here’s a great video from youtube:
Next Tuesday, I’ll be sharing my personal BIGGIE as far as spiritual pet peeves go!