Cerebral Distortion and the Importance of Connection: It May Be That, Without Therapy, the Real Benefits of Spiritual Practice Are Not Attainable by Most Westerners
It would seem that some spiritual disciplines and religions are able to give some people a taste of more “alive” experiences than would ordinarily be possible by temporarily reducing the amount of pain-energized cortical activity or “noise.” In Huxley’s classic work, The Doors of Perception (1954), he makes a point that there are many “temporary by-passes” to “brain-as-reducing-valve,” some of which he directly relates to a slowdown of cortical activity through physiological means (pp. 23-24).
Meditation Tries to “Cut Through” the Pain
Meditation, specifically, appears to be a method of attempting to still the pain-driven cortical ramblings to gain access to nonverbal experience. In primal terms it may be said to be an attempt to bypass second-line pain and go directly to nonconceptual first-line material. This is not to say that some second-line is not dealt with. In addition to the evidence presented by Kornfield (1979) and Kapleau (1980), we might also remember that Muktananda’s journey inward was characterized by smiles and tears. Apparently, some second-line connections were made. Yet the meditative technique seems structured, basically, to get “below” these “personal” levels as soon as possible.
In meditation one attempts to maintain a “calm, detached attitude while observing his mental processes,” and the goal is to attend to thoughts that will deepen meditation and allow other distracting or disturbing thoughts to arise and burst without becoming involved in them (Rama et al., 1976, pp. 149-150). In this way the body learns to associate the relaxed state with what had formerly been disturbing thoughts, ever productive of cerebral “noise.”
Primal and Meditation Both Access Nonconceptual Experience
This meditation technique is vastly different from a primal one wherein all disturbing thoughts are allowed full sway in consciousness. Nevertheless, both do seem to provide access to underlying nonverbal levels. In fact, I have been told by one person who has experienced first-line pain in both meditation and primal that the phenomena encountered are identical: They are primarily body phenomena that the conceptual parts of the brain can interpret in a number of ways.
Meditation and Primal Both Access Body Memories of Birth and the Perinatal
In this respect, we might recall the descriptions of death-rebirth that are so commonly found in the spiritual literature and in the ethnographies of nonliterate peoples. Though primalers will invariably relate their particular experiences of this sort to their own biological births, in the psychedelic literature we find many examples of people reliving their births and using spiritual concepts, such as death-rebirth, to explain their experiences … although it should be noted that often in subsequent relivings the biological elements become too obvious to ignore.
The Importance of Connection
Apparently, it is only in the ways that these experiences are interpreted that shows up as a difference between them. Whereas Muktananda felt the “hopping” his body did was like that of a frog, someone in primal might realize that the jerks and kicks were actually the eruption of unresolved tensions from her or his birth.
Janov would say, however, that this difference in interpretation is an important one. For if one is interpreting these nonverbal body feelings in spiritual or other terms, one is not linking them up with one’s personal reality or one’s own experiences. One is not “connecting”; one is not seeing how that particular pattern of pain has influenced one’s second-line pain, nor how it has influenced one’s life history and present patterns of behavior. Thus, Janov would say that no change in those patterns of behavior can occur.
It would seem that first-line access without connection to second-and third-line—that is to say, without connection to how those birth and prenatal events influenced one’s childhood experiences and current life feelings and circumstances—would keep the cortical programs intact. Neural energies would continue proceeding along familiar distorted pathways, and these pain-necessitated elements of the antiquated defense system would remain to influence and distort the perceptions of one’s deeper experiences.
A Calmer State with a Disturbed Understanding May Result from Meditation on Its Own
On the other hand, one could make a case that very real, repressed energy is released during these first-line encounters no matter how they are interpreted. This energy, then, is no longer driving the excess cortical activity common to neurotics and characteristic of the beta state. The effect is that of less “noise,” calmer brain wave activity, and an increased capability to gain access to subtler energies.
Therefore, the fact that connections are not made and the original cerebral pathways are not altered seems to mark the difference between the primal and spiritual first-line encounters. I will discuss the effects of this further on.
Differences in Pain
It should be pointed out that for some this difference may not represent a real problem. Some people may simply not have much second-line pain, or even first-line pain blocking the perception of clear Reality.
People Differ in the Amount of Life Trauma Separating Them from Bliss
Apparently, there are vast differences in the amount of pain that people carry around, as Grof has demonstrated in reference to his LSD subjects. He found that there were some people who, after dealing with and reliving psychodynamic and perinatal material for a few sessions, would proceed to transpersonal experiences for the remainder of their sessions. This was especially true of professionals who were undergoing the treatment as part of their training. This was in contrast to others with manifest neurotic and psychotic symptoms, many of whom had been hospitalized and often required scores of sessions dealing with their personal material before proceeding to transpersonal material (Grof, 1970, p. 2).
“Humanity … Is Neurotic”.”
Also there might be cultural differences. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) wrote that “humanity, itself, is neurotic” because society requires that each person be “conditioned” and “molded into a particular pattern” and not be “allowed to be just whatever he is” (1976, p. 26). Further, he said that this may have had something to do with the fact that the great spiritual masters, who themselves realized, could not help the greater portion of humanity to reach enlightenment (p. 27).
Westerners Might Be “Crazier” and Thus Find It More Difficult
Keep this in mind along with the evidence that Americans have traditionally ranked among the lowest in the world in the general indulgence we afford our infants (Whiting & Child, 1953). Additionally, we are, in cross-cultural perspective, “quite severe in the general socialization of [our] children,” especially in regards to such important events as weaning and toilet training where we have been judged to be “exceptionally early and exceptionally severe” and “in a hurry to start the training process” (p. 320). These things be truing, we may say that we are, in some ways, more “neurotic” than many other cultures.
It May Be That the Real Benefits of Spiritual Practice Cannot Be Gained by Most Westerners
Considering all this we might question why we think we can just adopt, wholesale, the techniques that have been developed down through the centuries and, especially, for use in other cultures. For if, as Rajneesh says, the spiritual techniques don’t work because they do not address humanity as it is—that is to say, neurotic—then meditation and similar practices may be said to be even less applicable to a modern “severely conditioned” … and more traumatized … Westerner.
Continued with Bad Karma Enters Us Through Our Birth and Womb Experiences … Meditation as a Defense: A Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part Nine — Karmic Genetics
Return to The Joy Beneath the Pain and Positive Possibilities of Experiential Process: A Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part Seven — The Roots of Bliss
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