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Jung Journal
Culture & Psyche

ISSN: 1934-2039 (Print) 1934-2047 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ujun20

Dimensions of the Psyche
Katherine Olivetti
To cite this article: Katherine Olivetti (2015) Dimensions of the Psyche, Jung Journal, 9:4,
98-124, DOI: 10.1080/19342039.2015.1086937
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19342039.2015.1086937

Published online: 19 Nov 2015.

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Download by: [Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen]

Date: 26 March 2016, At: 04:46

INTERVIEW

Dimensions of the Psyche
A Conversation with Stanislav Grof, MD, and Richard Tarnas, PhD

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KATHERINE OLIVETTI

Richard Tarnas, PhD (left) and Stanislav Grof, MD (right)

On a sunny spring day I drove to Mill Valley to visit two men whose life work has been original,
exploratory, and visionary. Stanislav Grof, psychiatrist, and Richard Tarnas, professor of
philosophy and psychology, have worked individually and collaborated closely with one another
for over four decades. Each, in his own right, has produced an enormous body of work, which
includes books, articles, lectures, workshops, research, and much more. Grof, one of the founders of
transpersonal psychology, is the author of Realms of the Human Unconscious, Beyond the Brain:
Birth, Death, and Transformation in Psychotherapy, and Psychology of the Future. He has had over a
half century of experience researching the healing and transformative potential of non-ordinary
states of consciousness. Tarnas teaches at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), where
he founded the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness graduate program, and is the author of
The Passion of the Western Mind and Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View. They
have taught together numerous graduate seminars and workshops, with roots in their continuing
joint research that began in the 1970s when Grof was Scholar-in-Residence at Esalen Institute and
Tarnas was Esalen’s Director of Programs and Education.
Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche, Volume 9, Number 4, pp. 98–124, Print ISSN 1934-2039, Online ISSN 1934-2047.
q 2015 C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco. DOI: 10.1080/19342039.2015.1086937.

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Katherine Olivetti, A Conversation with Stanislav Grof and Richard Tarnas

I felt especially privileged personally and also on behalf of Jung Journal that two
psychological pioneers were willing to speak spontaneously without preparation and casually about
work that they have presented in other places formally and more fully. Our conversation wandered
from Stan’s work to Rick’s. The nature of a spontaneous dialogue did not do justice to the
brilliance, depth, and expanse of the opus of each man’s career. That said, as I reflected later on the
conversation, I was struck by the archetypal dimension that characterized each man’s work.
Often as Jungians, when we think archetypal we think mythical, drawing connections from
personal psychology to mythological figures and patterns. In Stan’s schema of perinatal experience,
however, he articulates the felt essence of the archetypal nature of human experience: through my
own suffering, I know the suffering of all people. The essential patterns of human experience are
known and lived through one’s own birth experience: uroboric containment, fall and separation,
existential impotence and despair, conflict and struggle, emergent hope and transformative
deliverance. The universality of the phases of birth is the basis for much of Stan Grof’s understanding
of psychological development and its challenges. Interestingly, because of its ubiquity, Jung chose to
dismiss biological birth for that very reason, despite his deep grasp of birth as an archetypal reality.
The convergence of the personal and archetypal, of the personal as an expression of the
archetypal, is also deeply embedded in Rick Tarnas’s views on archetypal astrology. The natal chart
of any given individual, precise to the moment and place of birth, is an expression of a unique
confluence of archetypal patterns relevant to the unfolding of the individual’s life and reflected in
the planetary patterns of that time. The personal and transpersonal meet at a particular moment,
the moment of birth, and yield a pattern that highlights the dominant archetypal themes and
their dynamics.
Katherine Olivetti: There are so many things I’d like to talk to you about—astrology, greater
consciousness, the relationship between altered states and access to the collective unconscious, the
healing potential of altered states, about the new program at CIIS in which licensed therapists are
being trained to accompany individuals in an experience of drug-induced altered states. An area of
special interest is the relationship between ego development and the access to the greater psyche,
the archetypal layers of the unconscious, mystical experience. To some extent, it seems as if ego
development, and the thrust of psychotherapy, rather than fostering a connection between such
states, takes an individual further away from opening to psychospiritual experiences even though
Jung made room for that aspect of experience.
Last February in an article in The New Yorker, “The Trip Treatment,” author Michael Pollan
described a study conducted at New York University. Cancer patients were given psilocybin, the
psychedelic found naturally in certain mushrooms. A dying patient, after the experience of the
drug-induced expanded consciousness, was no longer afraid of dying. “One of the researchers was
quoted as saying that, under the influence of the hallucinogen, ‘individuals transcend their primary
identification with their bodies and experience ego-free states . . . and return with a new
perspective and profound acceptance’”(Pollan 2015, 36). The article mentioned your work, Stan.
Knowing that there has been a resurgence of studies that investigate the healing potential of
consciousness-altering substances and that CIIS has begun a program that trains therapists to
accompany clients in drug-induced therapy, interest in the non-ordinary states of consciousness

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grows. To my mind it’s almost as if the universe is one great huge consciousness, and each of us is
one little part of that whole, and every once in a while we dip into that great expanse. But how do
you do it?
Stanislav Grof: Joseph Campbell had a great way of describing this. He referred to Freud’s
metaphor envisioning the psyche as an iceberg in which nine-tenths were hidden under the surface of
the water. Freud discovered that what we had thought was the psyche was just like the tip of the
iceberg. Campbell, an admirer of Jung, suggested that what Freud and his followers unveiled was
itself just the tip of the iceberg. He put it very succinctly: “Freud was fishing while sitting on a whale.”
I myself would not have discovered the enormous dimensions of the psyche had it not been for LSD.
I went to study medicine specifically to become a psychoanalyst. I got very excited after reading
Freud, and it turned me from my original plan for my career, which was to become a movie
animator, to medicine and psychiatry. My analyst was a very orthodox Freudian, and he proudly
claimed that he was probably “more Freudian than Freud himself.” For him, Jung was a mythomaniac who was trying to justify his own psychosis. And what Otto Rank had written about the
importance of birth, was, according to him, utter nonsense.
Katherine: How did you find your way from psychoanalysis to an interest in LSD?
Stan: I became interested in psychoanalysis before the Communist putsch. During the Stalinist era,
my analyst and I had to go underground. My analysis was based on a private arrangement between
my analyst and me; this was very dangerous for both professional careers. I was officially practicing
mainstream psychiatry, but secretly I was attending psychoanalytic seminars and undergoing my
training analysis. I found my analysis very interesting, but over time I became disappointed with it,
at first not with its theory but with its meager results despite the enormous investment of time,
energy, and money. And at this time something very important happened in my life: the
department of psychiatry where I worked received from the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company in
Basel, Switzerland, a supply of a fascinating experimental substance, LSD-25. It came with a letter
describing the serendipitous discovery of its psychedelic effects by Dr. Albert Hofmann who
accidentally intoxicated himself during its synthesis.
Albert Hofmann wrote a letter to his boss, Arthur Stoll, describing his amazing experience
with LSD. Stoll asked his son Werner, a psychiatrist in Zürich, to conduct a pilot study with the
new substance; the results were described in a paper published in 1949, under the title “LSD-25:
A Fantasticum from the Ergot Group.” Sandoz representatives then started sending samples to
universities, research institutes, and private therapists. In the accompanying letter, they suggested
two ways in which LSD could be used. The first one was to induce “experimental psychosis”—to
administer it to “normal” people and study the biochemical, electrophysiological, and psychological
changes at the time when the psyche was so profoundly affected. The second possible use was to
explore the value of LSD as an unconventional educational tool. It gave psychologists and
psychiatrists the opportunity to spend a few hours in an experiential world that resembled that of
some of their patients. At that time my disappointment with psychoanalysis was rising, and this
seemed like an exciting new possibility, a new opening. Initially, I did not qualify for the LSD

Katherine Olivetti, A Conversation with Stanislav Grof and Richard Tarnas

experience myself because I was still a medical student. However, my preceptor used me to sit for
the sessions of many artists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. But the first thing I did when I
received my medical degree was to have the experience myself. And this session changed me in a
very profound way, personally and professionally. The study of non-ordinary states of
consciousness became my vocation, my passion, my profession, and my life’s work.

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Katherine: That expanded experience is predictable with LSD. Are there other gateways to that
kind of experience?
Stan: Yes, there are many of them. I call them “technologies of the sacred.” They are various
methods that have been developed by ancient and native cultures and used in their ritual and
spiritual practices. Here belong, for example, various shamanic techniques, rites of passage, ancient
mysteries of death and rebirth, different schools of yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, Kabbalah, and
Christian mysticism.
Katherine: And what about the Holotropic Breathwork?
Stan: I should have mentioned among technologies of the sacred also powerful Western
experiential methods of psychotherapy, such as primal therapy, rebirthing, and Holotropic
Breathwork. When I moved to Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, I was giving workshops
about my psychedelic research in Prague and Baltimore. Participants were not very happy just
listening to me talking about these extraordinary experiences; they wanted to experience them. But
I did not have the legal permission to use psychedelic substances at Esalen. So my late wife
Christina and I started exploring what we could do without the drugs. The development of
Holotropic Breathwork was based on some observations from my earlier work with psychedelics.
I had noticed that some LSD sessions had a wonderful ending; the patients felt reborn,
rejuvenated, and their symptoms were alleviated or disappeared. Other times, however, the result
was not that great. The experience brought to the surface a new area of problems that were not
resolved by the time the pharmacological effects wore off.
I initially thought the only thing we could do was to wait about ten days—the time of increased
tolerance to LSD—and run another session. And then it happened several times that the patients
who had unresolved physical symptoms asked me for some physical intervention. I remember when
it happened for the first time with a man who was coming down from the session and the drug was
wearing off. He was very angry and had a strong pain in his shoulder. He asked me to put pressure on
it and massage it. When I pressed deeply, he started growling, screaming, coughing, and flailing
around. After about twenty minutes of this bodywork, he was pain-free, relaxed, and happy.
Another time there was a female patient coming down and experiencing very strong nausea. I asked
her where she felt it and pressed gently on that spot. It triggered projectile vomiting, and in a very
short time she felt great relief and the session was successfully closed.
Rick Tarnas: In both of those experiences there was relevant psychological material closely tied to
the somatic symptoms. Often the somatic symptoms are themselves a gateway for this

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psychological material to emerge, and if they can be increased, one gets flooded with the
consciousness of a suppressed memory that holds a lot of emotional and spiritual content.
Stan: Yes, often it was related to biological birth. Usually there’s a layered constellation with
several levels of closely connected memories from different periods of life. I refer to these
constellations as COEX systems (systems of condensed experience). For example, there could be a
choking COEX comprising maybe a memory of near drowning at the age of seven, an attempt by
an older brother at strangling at the age of four, and a severe episode of whooping cough at the age
of two. And maybe a memory of a situation from birth when the shoulder got stuck behind the
mother’s pubic bone, or the umbilical cord was wrapped around the neck, interconnected with a
past life experience of being strangled or hanged.
Rick: These memories can all converge in a single psychic constellation of experiences from
different times of life that manifests in a particular somatic quality, which in turn can be accessed
in a powerful non-ordinary state of consciousness. The whole gestalt then can start to release, but
only if one has gone deep enough into the experience, surrendered to its depths and intensity, to
get the ego control out of the way, so that the body and the psyche can spontaneously flush forth
with what has been suppressed.
Stan: And now back to your initial question. I saw there was a system there, and I started offering
these physical interventions to people who were not finished. I started asking them what was
happening in their bodies and intensifying those symptoms. This typically resolved the problem.
This was really a homeopathic strategy—seeing symptoms as indications of a healing movement in
the body and in the psyche and enhancing them. And then it happened several times that when we
were doing this during the latter part of psychedelic sessions, the patients started simultaneously
breathing faster. They reported that the faster breathing brought them back into the deep
experience, even though the drug was already wearing off. This is how I discovered that faster
breathing can bring to the surface material from the deep unconscious. So at Esalen when people
wanted to have such experiences, we started combining faster breathing, releasing bodywork, and
evocative music, and discovered that many people had very deep and powerful experiences without
the use of substances. This is how Holotropic Breathwork was born. For some people these
experiences were just below the surface. The breathwork enabled a deeper relationship between
consciousness and the unconscious. In such cases, it didn’t take much to open those pathways.
Katherine: I see. The breathwork enabled the person to set the ego aside and surrender to the
somatic experience.
Rick: And to the archetypal experience, with all the emotional and somatic material that was
clustered together in these constellations of memories, fantasies, and compromise formations. The
early childhood memory of trauma would be available, for example, with its overlays of more recent
similarly themed memories and psychic material, and informed throughout by a common
archetypal gestalt. And it’s important to emphasize that positive memories and qualities could be

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Katherine Olivetti, A Conversation with Stanislav Grof and Richard Tarnas

accessed in this way too, bringing one into touch with deep positive emotions and events that may
have been diminished or lost from memory over time.
I wanted to clarify one possible misunderstanding about psychedelics, the whole spectrum of
psychoactive substances, from LSD to peyote to ayahuasca and others: They catalyze experiences
from the depths of the psyche. It’s not at all inevitable or automatic that ingesting a psychedelic will
produce an experience with a particular character, or result in a particular outcome, or bring forth a
spiritually or mystically healing experience. It makes a big difference whether the psychoactive
substance is taken in an inward-focused, clinically supervised manner for therapeutic reasons, for
example, or is instead taken as a casual trip out in the world, where all sorts of unpredictably
contaminating events might affect the outcome. There’s also great variability between subjects: one
person could have ten sessions and the experiences might stay focused on early childhood or even
recent memories, whereas another person could take it once and immediately access experiences of
unitive or cosmic consciousness or identification with a powerful archetypal god or goddess or
mythic figure. It can take so many different forms. This is why Stan refers to these substances, LSD in
particular, as non-specific catalysts of the unconscious. The substance catalyzes the psyche’s depths
but not in a specifically determined or inevitable way. Some people are rigidly defended against their
unconscious, as for example, with severe obsessive compulsive disorders. In very rare cases, it might
take a number of sessions before they have any non-ordinary experience at all.
The other thing to mention here is that some of the various psychedelics do seem to have their
own particular character. For example, MDMA, or ecstasy, has a strong bias toward the positive
end of the affective spectrum, deeply heart-full, centered psychological insight and self-acceptance,
and tends to produce less visual imagery or “cosmic” breakthroughs or metaphysical disorientation.
Or to take another example, ayahuasca experiences often seem to be accompanied with the sense of
an inner healer being present in the medicine. People who experience this inner healer, the “spirit
of the vine,” tend to talk about it with great realism and reverence; not only tribal or shamanic
people experience this effect. Also, many ayahuasca users have reported experiencing South
American imagery—rainforest flora and fauna, sounds and smells—even though they might be
physically at that moment in a Los Angeles clinical setting.
Katherine: You are talking about individuals who would have no way of conjuring these images or
sensations by themselves. In other words, it wouldn’t just be that they are projecting that.
Stan: Over the years, I have tried to find independent verification of the veracity of all those
biographical, perinatal, and transpersonal experiences where it was possible and have in my books
descriptions of many positive results of this quest. The effects of individual psychedelics are nonspecific in the sense that the content of the experiences induced consists of the material from the
extended cartography of the psyche—memories from childhood and infancy, perinatal and
prenatal memories, ancestral experiences, elements from the historical or archetypal collective
unconscious, phylogenetic sequences, and so on. But as Rick mentioned, there could be differences
in the experiential style with which these are presented, or even emphasis or certain motifs, as is the
case with ayahuasca. There seems to be a great similarity between what happens in psychedelic
experiences or in Holotropic Breathwork and what happens in Jung’s active imagination. What

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emerges in all these situations is unconscious material that has a strong emotional charge and is
situated close to the threshold of consciousness. Some unconscious material that is also of great
importance may lie deep in the psyche, and it could take several sessions for it to emerge into
consciousness. During the psychedelic sessions, it is almost like there is an inner radar that scans
the psyche and the body for what is really significant and is, at the same time, available for
processing on that particular day.
Katherine: It sounds like what you are describing is that it might take a number of sessions to
clear out the various layers. As the more personal layers are encountered, then the deeper ones
become available.
Rick: Yes, it can be a very archaeological process, which, of course, is a metaphor and sensibility
that Jung reflected as well. When Stan was doing his initial work in Prague, he was using lower
doses of LSD, and the tendency there was for a more gradual archaeological uncovering of the
psyche, starting with more recent biographical material and then going back to oedipal, then preoedipal, very early infantile, then birth and perinatal and pre-natal experience. And then closely
intertwined with the perinatal and the death-rebirth process could be access to full-on archetypal
experiences, mythological sequences, with a lot of numinosity, as well as past-life and collective
historical experiences, and so forth. So it was helpful in Stan’s early mapping that they were using
lower doses, which enabled them to uncover and articulate the various archaeological layers with
greater nuance. When they started using the higher doses after he came to the United States and
was working at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center in Baltimore on the NIMH research
project, when only three sessions were allowed per subject, the process often took the form of being
catapulted into mystical experiences, as well as experiences of profound spiritual terror, which can
be part of the unfolding process to get to the more joyful realms.
Stan: The sequential sessions conducted in Prague kept revealing these layers in the unconscious
psyche: one of my patients called this process “onion peeling of the unconscious.” This made it
possible for me to discover the dynamic connections between the strata of the COEX systems and
their relationship to the symptoms. The content of the layer on which the experience was focusing
also determined the nature of the illusive transformation of the environment. It accounted for the
fact that my clients saw me at one time as a childhood pet or friendly uncle and another time as
one of their abusive parents or a Nazi officer. It explained why they perceived the treatment room
as a cottage in the Polynesian islands, as a bordello, or as death row. I was fascinated by this
dynamic and analyzed it closely. I described this material in my first book, Realms of the Human
Unconscious (1975). This was more acceptable for academic communities than discussing
paradigm-challenging perinatal and transpersonal experiences.
Rick: Academic communities with, at best, a Freudian perspective.
Stan: Later when we used higher dosages and asked our patients to keep their eyes closed all the
time, we saw powerful transformations, but did not have any idea why and how these changes

Katherine Olivetti, A Conversation with Stanislav Grof and Richard Tarnas

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happened. We were getting very impressive results, but were not able to understand the underlying
dynamics. However, I was able to infer on the basis of my experiences with the lower dosages what
might have happened.
This was similar to the observations of David Rosen who studied survivors of suicidal jumps
from the Golden Gate Bridge (1975). They experienced tremendous transformation within
seconds of the fall. It is not clear what happened in these cases, but it shows that the psyche can
change very rapidly. Non-ordinary states of consciousness offer a fascinating therapeutic alternative
to meticulous analysis in hundreds of sessions of verbal therapy.
Rick: I’d like to get back to your very first question, Katherine, related to the issue of how so much
of contemporary psychotherapy is oriented to strengthening the ego and executive function. Many
spiritual and mystical writings and teachings point toward the importance of dissolving the ego
and getting it out of the way. Jung had insights about the complex and mysterious relationship
between the ego and the Self. He had powerful non-ordinary experiences in his own descent into
the unconscious, which became the source spring, the prima materia, of his lifework. But his
descent was also terrifying enough at various times that he didn’t feel that every individual was
equipped to get that close to a psychotic breakdown of personality structure. He himself had an
unusually strong ego and also, at the same time, had close access to, and vulnerability to, archetypal
material that was very challenging to his sense of conscious personal identity and executive
functioning as it was rushing in. I think he was resistant to having people ingest a psychoactive
substance or sacred vision plant that might catalyze powerful material from the unconscious faster
or more intensely than would the practice of active imagination. It would be interesting to hear
from Stan about how to negotiate these two values: on the one hand, an ego that possesses a
healthy, high level of executive functioning, and on the other, an ego that permits access to the
depths of the soul.
Stan: It has to do with how we define the ego. According to Freud, ego is the capacity to perceive
the environment correctly and choose proper reactions to it. This is not the ego that is involved in
the process that we refer to as ego death. What dies in this process is the false ego forged by the
experience in the birth canal. People sometimes carry memories of thirty, forty, or fifty hours of a
life-threatening situation that generated powerful emotions and physical sensations. None of these
could be processed at the time because there was no way of coping with them—expressing them,
fighting back, or running away. The little crying that happens after birth is trivial compared to
what would be necessary to achieve that.
So when we see people in psychedelic and breathwork sessions, we are comfortable with
extreme emotions and physical manifestations—screaming, intense tremors, or flailing around—
because we know that they are dealing with or reprocessing a powerful life-threatening situation.
We have a conceptual framework that helps us comprehend why this is happening. If someone has
a cartography of the psyche that is limited to postnatal biography, then when he or she sees this
happening it appears that there is an opening up of psychotic terrain. Actually, it is more dangerous
to activate this material and not to process it fully than it is to see it through even if the process
seems extreme and scary; in that sense, it is very much like birth itself.

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