Posts Tagged primal therapy
The Beginning of Change
by Debbie Condon
[This is a review of the book Apocalypse NO: Apocalypse or Earth Rebirth and the Emerging Perinatal Unconscious]
Reading Apocalypse No is the answer to all of the questions I’ve had about what is really going on this world today. This book is fascinating in the way that the author, Michael Adzema, brings to light the reasons for the apathy that haunts our planet today. His concerns for this planet mirror my own which was the reason I bought it. He actually brings us to the beginning of our problems and was my introduction to the experiential therapies. He has put many years of additional research into the therapies that go beyond the “band aids” being administered today by taking us back to our blatantly overlooked beginning. He successfully brings to attention the parallels between our beginnings to every day modern life which is also heavily mirrored in today’s pop culture; that is not inherent to our species at all. I’ve been following Michael Adzema for a couple of years online and happy he has finally brought his work to a format that can reach many more so we can begin collectively working together to heal ourselves and hopefully, this world we live in. I believe this book as well as the other books in this series he has written is rudimentary to the solutions this planet is in dire need of which has to begin within ourselves. I highly recommend this book for everyone because, as he points out, we all begin at the same point and are so deeply affected by these beginnings that we subconsciously reenact and unconsciously accept the often vague yet potent facsimiles in our everyday lives. I have found this book to be the beginning of healing and positive change for myself and hopefully for you as well. This is the book of change!
Levels of Pain, Levels of Bliss and the First Shutdown: “I Went from Birth to an Intrauterine State to Conception to Floating in the Icy Vastness of Space.”
Experiences of Overwhelming Energy and Joy Have Been Described: A Primal Perspective, Part Six — Four Levels of Psychedelic Experience and a Primal Spirituality
The strongest support for the alternative explanation, however, comes from research done by Stanislav Grof with LSD. Grof has described the reliving of traumatic experiences from childhood, birth, and in the womb, of people under the influence of LSD, that seem almost identical to experiences described by primalers. [Footnote 5]
Four Levels of Deep, Psychedelic Experience
Grof delineates four levels of the drug state, each deeper than the preceding one: the aesthetic, the psychodynamic, the perinatal, and the transpersonal. These also represent a progression in that the usual course, over a series of LSD sessions, is to go beyond the initial levels, after having experienced and resolved the particular tasks/problems on those levels (1970, pp. 19-20). Consequently, the transpersonal level is only reached by persons in advanced stages of LSD therapy.
The psychodynamic and perinatal level experiences, although containing additional symbolic elements not always found in the primal process, show striking similarities to experiences of what Janov has termed “second-line” and “first-line” pain.
Levels of Primal Experience, Levels of Pain
First-line pain is preverbal. It relates to traumatic experiences that occurred en utero, at birth, and for a period of about six months after birth. There is a life and death urgency about these kinds of feelings, relating as they do to a time of complete helplessness and dependence on others and an inability to separate one’s self from painful experience by conceptualizing it. This kind of pain often relates to matters of biological necessity, and the memories of the traumatic experiences are registered in subcortical parts of the brain. First-line appears to be identical to Grof’s perinatal level of the unconscious.
Second-line pain is more verbal and relates to traumatic or hurtful events from childhood, after the child has begun to use concepts to structure his or her experience. The memories associated with this level are more accessible to consciousness, registered, as they are, in the cortex. Second-line appears to be identical to Grof’s psychodynamic or biographical level.
Levels of Pain, Levels of Bliss
The manner in which these levels are experienced, the progression from later and more accessible to earlier and deeper, the way that the pains are resolved, and the manner in which unresolved pains influence postsession intervals—all seem to be similar and often identical in the primal and the LSD experiences.
However, one striking difference exists. Beyond the “primal” levels of the LSD experience, Grof has described experiences of a transpersonal nature that do not appear to have any roots in the personal pain of the participant and appear to be experiences sui generis. The experiences on this level are incredibly varied and range from past-incarnation experiences to ancestral memories, certain kinds of archetypal experiences, and, on what appears to be its most profound level, consciousness of “Universal Mind” and “Metacosmic Void.”
The question naturally arises as to why primalers who are able to experience psychodynamic and perinatal phenomena without drugs are not reported to be contacting feelings of a transpersonal nature. Contrary to Janov’s published reports, there are some indications of it occurring. Some long-term primalers with whom I have contact have talked of receiving love, helping, strength, or bliss that seemed to be coming from a place beyond the scope of their current physical existence, to be emanating from a “higher power” of some sort. Their descriptions have many parallels to some descriptions of spiritual experience.
“I Was Three Things: Sperm, Egg, and a Cosmic Life Force.”
Experiences of overwhelming energy and joy have been described. One person used the terms “cosmic life force,” “cosmic energy,” and “God power” to describe his experience. He remarked that it was of such intensity that it would have been too much to experience at an earlier stage in his therapy and related it to a time before he was conceived. He said that he had the realization that “I was three things: sperm, egg, and a cosmic life force.”
Another primaler, Belden Johnson (1991) described his experience:
In a sort of sped-up time-lapse film that ran quickly backwards, I went from birth to an inter-uterine state to conception to floating in the icy vastness of space, surrounded by the faint light pricks of distant stars. At first my Observer-mind came in with, “Hm. Symbolic ideation. The soul floating in space between embodiments and all that.”
But he quickly changed his diagnosis:
“Nope. You’re a tiny part of the whole shtick , old boy. An atom in space, a mote of consciousness, a tiny fragment of the God head.” (p. 54)
The First Shutdown
It is no coincidence that these last two experiences revolve around conception and cellular consciousness. Indeed, our sense is that these spiritual experiences often are related to gaining access to a time before the first “shutdown,” which is the first time that trauma forces a retreat from one’s full capabilities and consciousness. Our experience has been that the time before initial shutdown varies among people, but usually ranges from before the fertilization of the egg to some time en utero.
Exactly when and how this shutdown occurs will be the major theme of the rest of this book, Falls from Grace. While the time of major shutdown appears to vary, shutting down or retreat from full capabilities appears to happen gradually, and in stages—with earlier access correlating with relatively more spiritual, transpersonal access.
5. Grof (1980, p. 10) acknowledges the convergence of LSD therapy and primal therapy.
Continue with The Joy Beneath the Pain and Positive Possibilities of Experiential Process: A Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part Seven — The Roots of Bliss
Return to Approaching the “Source”: Right-Left Brain Integration, Theta Waves … Hypnogogic Experiences, and Delta Waves … A Nightly Return to Our Roots in the Infinite
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Approaching the “Source”: Right-Left Brain Integration, Theta Waves … Hypnogogic Experiences, and Delta Waves … A Nightly Return to Our Roots in the Infinite
The Awareness of a “Larger Reality”: A Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part Five — Brain Correlates to Primal and Spiritual Experience … Wave and Structure
The relations between these levels of growth and the techniques under consideration can be demonstrated by their correlations with brain wave activity.
Theta Waves … Hypnogogic Experiences
Beta waves on the EEG correspond to normal waking consciousness while alpha indicates a more relaxed, tranquil state. The consciousness correlated with theta waves, which are even slower than alpha, is characterized by a dream-like or “reverie” state during which one is immersed in a world of images. It has long been known that these dream-like states (called “hypnogogic experiences”) play some part in scientific and artistic creation. (Rama, Ballentine, & Ajaya, 1976, pp. 146-147)
Delta Waves—A Nightly Return to Our Roots in the Infinite
An even more relaxed state is the delta state, which usually is only experienced in the phase of “deep sleep.” It is unknown what exactly goes on during this state of sleep as, unlike REM sleep, which is characterized by dreaming, this appears to be a dreamless state. Yogananda (1946, p. 493) has indicated that it represents a nightly return to our roots in the infinite. Regardless, it is a more relaxed state than even the very relaxed and creative theta state.
Theta has been called a measure of feeling states by Janov (1974b, p. 40). He also has brought forth research showing a trend toward theta and delta states in advanced primalers (cf. Janov & Holden, 1975, p. 493; Janov, 1971, pp. 214-215). Lake (1981) also makes this connection between theta states and integrative primal access and relivings. Similarly, research on meditators has indicated that they also exhibit alpha, theta, and delta wave patterns while awake, with more advanced meditators exhibiting the slower brain-wave patterns (cf. Rama et al., 1976, pp. 159-161; Walsh, 1979, p. 166).
The Awareness of a “Larger Reality”
We see that at least in regard to brain-wave activity the effects of primal and meditation are parallel. The effects include increasingly relaxed patterns and greater synchronization. One might speculate that the correlate of these slower rhythms is the awareness of subtler and subtler energies (a primaler would say “feelings”). These energies and awarenesses are unavailable in the normal beta state and could therefore be said to represent the awareness of a “larger reality.”
In addition to brain-wave activity, one might also find correlates to this process in terms of actual parts of the brain.
Right Brain—Left Brain Integration
Much has been made of late correlating states of consciousness and areas of the brain along right brain/left brain lines. Left brain dominance has come under attack and an integration of the two is called for. It is becoming clear that this kind of integration is an important aspect of both the primal and spiritual processes. Evidence for this is presented by Janov (1973; Janov & Holden, 1975). And evidence of this kind of integration occurs in the spiritual disciplines, particularly in its most advanced stages (Earle, 1981).
Approaching the “Source”
What I am saying is that contact with subtler energies may involve awareness of brain activity existing closer to the brainstem, the “source” of brain activity, while normal consciousness is awareness of brain activity that is primarily cortical. Both the much acclaimed ability of yogis to control physiological processes that normally are unconsciously regulated and the reports that primalers are more aware of internal biological processes attest to this conception of the process.
Continue with Levels of Pain, Levels of Bliss and the First Shutdown: “I Went from Birth to an Intrauterine State to Conception to Floating in the Icy Vastness of Space.”
Return to The Primal Serene — A Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part Four: How Passion Promotes Serenity and the Detached Observer in Catharsis — The Eye of the Storm
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Is God a Defense? Is Passion not Spiritual? A Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part Two — To Travel Unafraid Through All the Rooms of One’s House
Stopping the “Internal Dialogue”: Meditation and Primal Are Attempts to Experience Aspects of Consciousness That Are Nonverbal, Noncortical, and Non-Neurotic
Is God a Defense?
This chapter is part of the development in primal in correcting one inaccuracy of the early “primal scream,” which is Janov’s attitude regarding the relation between feeling one’s feelings and the spiritual process. Janov would claim that religion and the belief in a God are defenses, and that spiritual experiences employ the energy of repressed material, as in sublimation, or are reaction formations to such pain. Specifically, Janov has stated that meditation is “anti-Primal.”
Is Catharsis Anti-Spiritual?
Attacking from the other side we have Wilber (1982) claiming that preverbal experiences are to be distinguished from transpersonal experiences. He claims that “[b]ecause both pre-X and trans-X are, in their own ways, non-X, they may appear similar, even identical, to the untutured eye,” whereas in reality they are profoundly different (p. 5). He posits a structure of linear development in which one conceivably could “regress” to pre-X, to prepersonal experience, and mistake it for transpersonal experience.
Therefore he would claim that such experiences as we undergo in the phenomenon of re-experience are actual “regressions” on the spiritual path and are antithetical to a true spiritual quest. He would also claim a spiritual meditative practice is antithetical to one of re-experience or “regression therapy.”
Meditation Is Often Emotionally “Messy”
Wilber’s theory strikes me as a curiously dualistic way of interpreting a nondichotomous reality. And although his reasoning is tight and internally consistent, it excludes the evidence of transpersonal experience as exhibited in the spiritual, psychedelic, and ethnographic literature, or the evidence of meditation research. For, as Epstein and Leiff, (1981, p. 140) wrote in commenting on Wilber’s distinctions between supposed pre- and transpersonal experience: “In fact, meditation experiences embody all of the above. Confusion arises when meditation is analyzed as one discrete state, rather than as a developmental process.”
Spiritual Growth Is Not a Linear Path, It is an Expanding Outward
Thus, I differ with Wilber in that I do not see preegoic influences as counter to a transcendental path; rather, I see them as distortions to be worked through.
This stems from the basic difference between our developmental frameworks in that Wilber sees a linearity, and I see a dialectic in which a transcendental jump “forward” may require an incorporative “backward” step. I do not see growth at all as a linear progression, but more like an expanding outward.
To Travel Unafraid Through All the Rooms of One’s House
What we find, in primal anyway, is that one actually is more adult when one can let one’s self be childlike at times. Wilber’s theory seems to exclude the possibility that the “healthiest” state may be, as many have described it, one in which we have access all the way “up” and “down” the “spectrum,” in which we can travel unafraid through all the rooms of our house. In this context regression can seem a meaningless term and discussion of it appear spurious.
An Alternative Explanation
Thus, unlike Janov who casts a dark light on spiritual pursuits in affirming the importance of primal experience (re-experience), Wilber impugns the validity of “pre-” experiences (re-experience) in affirming the importance of spiritual and meditative experiences.
Regression Is the Left Hand of Progression
My purpose here will be to counter both theorists in affirming that “pre-” is not distinct from “trans-,” as Wilber stated, nor primal distinct from meditation, as Janov stated.
Basically, the evolved primal therapy I participated in differs with Janov in discovering that primal and meditation are congruent techniques beneath their surface differences. This is evident in the similarity of the phenomena experienced in each and in the similarity of effects each has on the personality.
Their congruence is further indicated by the fact that transpersonal phenomena do seem to occur to advanced primalers, contrary to Janov’s claims. Though experiences of both primalers and LSD subjects seem to indicate that much of what is generally considered transpersonal phenomena is derivative of traumatic life experiences, particularly those occurring at birth or in the womb, there is much of transpersonal experience that cannot be explained away in that manner.
Stopping the “Internal Dialogue”
The alternative explanation I am presenting rests on the idea that the purpose of the spiritual disciplines is, as Castaneda has termed it, to stop the “internal dialogue.” This corresponds in primal therapy to the attempts to get “below” the rationalizations, intellectualizations, and defenses that are laid down in the cortex, to the real body feelings underneath. It would seem that both methods are engaged in an attempt to delve into and experience aspects of consciousness that are nonverbal, nonsymbolic, noncortical, and nonneurotic.
Neurosis has often been defined as a narrowing of consciousness. One way of viewing this is that it entails being cut off from large areas of awareness and experience that are tied up with painful memories and feelings. In this light it is interesting to consider a statement by Paramahansa Yogananda, who was discussing his experience of returning to a physical body in his reincarnation on earth. He writes, “Like a prodigal child, I had run away from my macrocosmic home and imprisoned myself in a narrow microcosm” (1946, p. 168).
“Imprisoned in a Narrow Microcosm” = Human
One way of viewing the human condition, then, is as a “neurotic” state in that it entails a narrowing of consciousness. We see neurosis in the pathological sense as simply a more extreme narrowing of consciousness than what is accepted as normal.
In this way we can see the function of the spiritual disciplines, which is to increase the capacity of the individual to accept the “larger reality,” as parallel to the purpose of primal therapy, which is to increase the capacity of the person to accept walled-off portions of her or his personal reality. As they apparently deal with different “levels” of reality, one might suspect that there would be differences in technique.
Catharsis and Calmness Alternate on Liberation’s Highway
But, conversely, I propose that primal and spiritual techniques are complementary, despite their surface differences, with either being helpful depending on the material to be worked through. Further and more specifically, I propose that primal can aid the spiritual process by clearing out negative material from the personal unconscious that would otherwise distort and impede that process, whereas spiritual techniques sometimes can be helpful in extending the arena of growth beyond the borders of strictly primal (or personal) reality.
Continue with “At Times I Hopped Like a Frog … Between Smiles and Tears, I Continued my Inward Journey.” — Guru Muktananda: A Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part Three — Cathartic Meditation
Return to How Valid Are Spiritual Experiences? Psychedelic Research and Deep Experiential Psychotherapy Have Intensified the Exploration of Spiritual Aspects of the Unconscious
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Everything You “Know” About Life You Learned as a Fetus: Foundations of Myth and Mind and my Personal Involvement with This Research into Our Actual “Human Nature”
Your Map of Reality Was Written in the Womb: Falls from Grace, Chapter One — Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and the Phenomenon of Re-Experience
Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and the Phenomenon of Re-Experience
Prenatal and perinatal psychology is the field that deals with the effects of events occurring prior to (prenatal) and surrounding (perinatal) the time of birth upon later life and personality. An ever increasing amount though certainly not all of the information we have about these periods of our lives and their effects is derived through the later and vivid remembering of these events in a phenomenon known as re-experience. Correspondingly, the two most frequently asked questions about this relatively new field, put by those initially encountering it, are those concerning the specific meanings of the terms perinatal and re-experience.
At the outset, I wish to present an explanation of these two terms and of my unique personal relation to this topic as well as some of my background in exploring it. I will follow this with an historical overview of the field of prenatal and perinatal psychology, which will reveal the key concepts and understandings employed throughout this book.
Re-Experience and Reliving
For over forty years, beginning in 1972 when I was a senior undergraduate in college, I have been involved both personally and professionally in a comprehensive investigation into the phenomenon of re-experience. Also called reliving, this phenomenon is reported to consist of a full somato-cognitive remembering of previous events in a person’s life. Reliving involves experiential but also observable and measurable components, such as brain wave changes, characteristic physiological and neurological changes, and typical observable body movements.
This phenomenon can occur, to varying degrees, in many consciousness-altering modalities—including hypnosis, LSD psychotherapy, primal therapy, rebirthing, and holotropic breathwork; to a considerable degree in re-evaluation co-counseling and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder; and, occasionally and spontaneously, even in mainstream forms of psychotherapy, counseling, and “growth seminars.”
Re-experience is a more vivid and more completely somatic catharsis than what has been described in psychotherapy in terms of abreaction. It is in such contrast to normal abreaction that when these seemingly bizarre yet healing events have spontaneously erupted in traditional or mainstream Western contexts they have usually been mistakenly labeled psychotic, been intervened upon, and then aborted—via drugs and other highly coercive measures—by the attending therapeutic authorities.
However, with an increasing appreciation for their therapeutic value, these events are gradually becoming understood and accepted in therapeutic contexts and thus allowed to complete themselves and to instruct the participants and observers in their meanings. Therefore, they appear to represent something new in our culture in terms of both a way of approaching knowledge and in terms of the kinds of information that are discovered (Grof 1976, 1985; Hannig 1982; Janov 1971; Lake 1966/1986; Noble, 1993; Stettbacher, 1992).
My Relationship to the Phenomenon of Re-Experience
My interest in the phenomenon of reliving began forty-four years ago at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As an undergraduate there I was most inspired by a course in religious studies titled “Religious and Psychological Approaches To Self-Understanding.” I was so inspired by the course that I constructed my major around its topic and initially even used the same title for my program’s name. This major in “self-understanding” would lead me, in a few years, to a profound interest in and exploration of primal therapy, as presented by Arthur Janov (1970) in his much-publicized book, The Primal Scream: Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis.
By 1972, I had completed all but the one final semester for a B.A. That semester was to include the cumulative project—required of such a Special Studies (individually structured) major. However, since my project would focus on primal therapy and one of primal therapy’s basic premises is that knowledge cannot really be known except through experience, I could not in good conscience turn in a project describing primal therapy without first experiencing it. Consequently I withdrew from college, for what was supposed to be only a semester, with the intention of “going through” primal therapy and then returning to school to write my cumulative project on it. In those days, the entire process of primal therapy was reputed to take only three to six months.
But a lot was unknown about that modality in those early days. As it turned out, I would not return to school to complete that final project until 1978—at which point I had five years’ experience of primal therapy behind me and was living in Denver, Colorado.
In addition to these experiences, I have amassed a broad array of other experience and training over the years that have contributed to my understanding of re-experience and of this field in general. Besides my two decades and more of primal therapy … both formally and in “the buddy system” … I have received training as a primal therapist. I am also a trained rebirther, having explored that modality since 1986. I have been experientially exploring the modality of holotropic breathwork since 1987 and did training with Stanislav and Christina Grof in that technique.
Finally, I have been facilitating people in their journeys into deep inner primal and holotropic states since 1975. I’ve given individual sessions in all three modalities of primal therapy, rebirthing, and holotropic breathwork. And with my wife, Mary Lynn Adzema, I conducted three day workshops in something we called primal breathwork. I’ve conducted two-day group workshops in this modality at conferences, which were attended by as many as sixty experiencers at a time.
Thus, I have experience in my own process in these modalities; but in addition I have facilitated for others on many occasions, and at times, it was my main profession—though most of my life I have spent in writing, teaching, and research.
Pre- and Perinatal Re-Experience
Re-experience of birth and of the events immediately prior to and after birth are termed perinatal—from the Greek, literally “surrounding birth.” It has been widely described at this point by a number of authors but is most closely associated with the work of Stanislav Grof, Arthur Janov, and Frank Lake.
However, one significant and as yet little explored or understood phenomenon, arising also from the modalities mentioned, is that of prenatal re-experience. In this case, the experiencer reports … and observationally appears to be … experiencing events that happened en utero, sometimes going back as far as sperm, egg, and zygote states (Buchheimer 1987; Farrant 1987; Grof 1976, 1985; Hannig 1982; Janov 1983; Lake 1981, 1982; Larimore 1990a, 1990b; Larimore & Farrant, 1995).
These reports of remembering experiences that occurred before birth are at such variance with Western professional and popular paradigms that they are met with near-universal incredulity and, too often, premature dismissal. Yet the evidence from the mounting numbers of experiential reports and empirical studies attests that something which is at least unique and interesting is going on here.
Nevertheless, much of this prenatal information is thus far unformulated, untheorized, and unintegrated into a coherent structure for making sense of these experiences. This book will go a long way toward doing just that—making sense of prenatal experiences and exploring the implications and prospects of the knowledge gleaned from this fascinating new area of research and which arises from the vision that an exposure to this material induces.
The present work represents an attempt to bring this new information concerning our origins and our earliest experiences into such a coherent structure. After the initial overview of the field to be presented in this chapter, I deepen that review of the current understanding and findings in this area in making a case, in Chapter Two, for the legitimacy of prenatal spirituality.
First, let us take a closer look at what we know about the time before and around birth and what it means for us throughout our lives.
Overview of the Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Field—Early Theorists: Psychoanalysis and Birth
Sigmund Freud — Birth as Prototype for All Anxiety
While Freud (1927) disregarded major effects of birth on personality, he still saw the birth experience as the prototype of all later anxiety. His overall disregard of birth, however, was largely influenced by the belief—although discredited (see Chamberlain, 1988), still common in mainstream psychology and medicine today—that a newborn does not possess the neurological capacity for consciousness at birth.
Otto Rank — Psychoanalysis, Birth Trauma, Foundations of Personality and Some Myth, Separation Anxiety
Other early psychoanalysts disagreed with Freud on this. Otto Rank is the most notable of these. Following Freud’s basic psychoanalytic reasoning for personality patterns in early infancy, he asserted basic patterns of experience and ideas that are rooted in even earlier experience. Rank (1929) claimed the deepest, most fundamental patterns of these personality constructs originated at the time of birth, which Freud thought was not possible. Based upon the dream, fantasy, and other patterns of associations arising in his patients in psychoanalysis, Rank postulated a birth trauma, which he saw as a critical event in laying down in each of us particular patterns of thinking, motivation, and emotion for the rest of our lives. Notable among these prototypes was a feeling of a paradise once known but somehow lost, a separation anxiety caused by the separation at birth, and a resulting futile and lifelong struggle to re-unite with that golden age and that early beloved because of a desire to return to the womb.
Nandor Fodor — Dreamwork, Birth and Prenatal Processing and Relivings, Prenatal Origins of Consciousness and Trauma
Also a psychoanalyst, Nandor Fodor (1949) focused on the reflections of birth and prenatal material in dreams. He also designed interventions in therapy to release the negative effects of birth and to process prenatal memories. He was the first to mention actual relivings of birth, in which veridical memories were recovered. He agreed with Rank on many points, but he stressed the origins of consciousness and of trauma being in the prenatal period.
Donald W. Winnicott — First Primal Therapist? Birth Relivings, Importance of Birth—Negative Imprints but Positive Effects, Too
Another psychoanalyst, and pediatrician as well, Winnicott (1958) also held that birth is remembered and is important. He insisted that the birth trauma is real, but he disagreed with Rank and Fodor that it is always traumatic. He suggested that a normal, nontraumatic, birth has many positive benefits, particularly for ego development. Still, he contended that traumatic birth is permanently etched in memory and leaves a lifetime psychological scar. Winnicott (1958) also suggested the possibility of prenatal trauma.
He has been called the first primal therapist in that he described the first birth primals—actual observable relivings of birth—spontaneously occurring by some of his patients during their sessions with him. Thus he was beginning the trend beyond mere talking association or dream analysis as ways of accessing and integrating this material.
Overview of the Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Field — Later Research and Theorists: Hypnosis, Primal Therapy, and Birth
David Cheek and Leslie LeCron — Hypnosis, Birth Memories and Imprints on Personality and Relation to Psychiatric Disorders
Cheek and LeCron (1968) used hypnosis to retrieve early memories in their patients. They discovered that memories earlier than what they expected, going back to birth, were possible. Importantly, a relief of symptoms seemed to follow from the re-experience of these birth memories. They came to the conclusion that a birth imprint occurs, which is induced by the extreme stress of that time and is resistant to fading from later experience. Further they asserted that this imprint could be the cause of a wide spectrum of psychiatric and psychosomatic disorders.
Leslie Feher — Psychoanalysis, Birth, Cutting of Umbilical Cord, Separation Trauma
Leslie Feher (1980) sought to extend the Freudian tradition farther back into areas that, she asserts, were until only recently unknowable. Thus, she describes a natal theory and therapy that includes experiences of cutting the umbilical cord, birth, and even prebirth. In fact, she considers the cutting of the umbilical cord to be central in her theory of trauma, calling it the “crisis umbilicus,” and echoes Fodor in claiming that it is the true origin of the castration fears made so much of in psychoanalysis. This is so because, according to Feher, the cord and placenta is an object of security and is considered by the fetus to be part of him- or herself. Thus, this cutting represents a supreme threat in being a separation from a total life support system, a major organ, a part of oneself. In these ways, she also brings forward for renewed appreciation Rank’s speculations on the element of separation trauma as a crucial element of the birth trauma.
Arthur Janov — Primal Therapy, Traumas of Birth and Early Life and Healing Them, Empirical Foundations and Neurophysiology of Early Events and Healing
Perhaps the major theorist and popularizer of the phenomenon of re-experience (which he termed primaling), Janov was reluctant to acknowledge the pervasiveness of pre- and perinatal re-experience and trauma. Yet when he did, it was in a major work on birth trauma, which remains as a touchstone in the field in its depth and detail. Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience, published in 1983, among other things places birth as the determining factor in creating basic personality constructs, called sympathetic and parasympathetic, which roughly coincide with the more common terms introversion and extroversion.
This work is more empirical and neurophysiologically rooted than most in the field. While the book is recognized in the field, Janov and his work have not gotten anywhere near the respect and attention that they deserve. He remains the unfortunate kicking-boy of a movement that is itself scapegoated by the academy and the larger scientific community.
Thomas Verny — Primal Therapy, Birth, Especially Womb Life and Relation to Personality … Prenatal Mother-Infant Bonding
The actual stimulus for a new field of pre- and perinatal psychology and the Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health—APPPAH was Thomas Verny’s (1981) The Secret Life of the Unborn Child. His work brought together a good deal of the new empirical research that had opened the doors to us on the events in the womb. While himself a practitioner of “holistic primal therapy,” he integrated the accumulating data from the phenomenon of re-experience with the new information from the more traditional, “objective,” scientific research into the prenatal—made possible by the latest advances in technology.
One of his conclusions from this combination of lines of inquiry was that “birth and prenatal experiences form the foundations of human personality” (1981, p. 118). His other conclusions center around the importance of intrauterine bonding in that his research strongly suggests that the prenate, via pathways hormonal and unknown, picks up on the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes of the mother. More importantly, he asserted, the imprint of these factors on the fetus predetermines the later mother-child relationship. He emphasized that positive thoughts and feelings toward the fetus—”maternal love”—acts to cushion the new individual against the normal stresses and unavoidable harshness inherent in birth and early infancy. Yet all of this cannot be completely avoided. “Birth is like death to the newborn,” writes Verny (1984, p. 48).
David Chamberlain — Hypnosis, Confirmed Validity of Birth Memories
David Chamberlain (1988), for many years the president of APPPAH (the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health), has further substantiated the claim of consciousness at birth and the accuracy of pre- and perinatal memory in the phenomenon of re-experience. He reported one study he did in which he compared hypnotically retrieved memories of birth from mother and child and found an astonishing degree of conformity in their responses. Of note was the degree of inner consistency and originality in these memories as reported by the former neonate. They often contained technical details of the delivery and labor unlike what would be expected of the medically unsophisticated, a perceptive critique of the way the birth was handled, and other details of the event that could not have been known through normal conscious channels.
Overview of the Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Field — Later Theorists: Societal Implications, Psychohistory, Birth and Prenatal
Lloyd deMause — Psychohistory, Prenatal and Poisonous Placenta, Sociohistorical Implications of Gestational and Birth Events
Lloyd deMause (1982, 1987) was instrumental in establishing the new interdisciplinary field of psychohistory. In his study of historical happenings he discovered that stages in the progression of events related to stages in the progression of gestation and birth … which stages happened to correspond, by the way, remarkably well with Stanislav Grof‘s four stages of birth, his Basic Perinatal Matrices.
He found that natal imagery especially predominates in societies during times of crisis and war, when national purpose and state of affairs are construed as a need to escape or break free from an enclosing and constricting force. He also noted the suffering fetus and the poisonous placenta as sources of these later metaphors and imagery. In fact, in studying the imagery in the national media of various countries he has been able to predict political, social, and economic events such as wars and invasions, recessions, and political downfalls.
His work begins to look at the prenatal influences and imprints and how they related to macrocosmic issues of politics, history, social movements, and issues of war and peace.
Later Theorists — Dream Analysis
Francis Mott — Conception and Gestational Basis of Myth, Archetype, all Patterns of Macrocosmic and Microcosmic Realities and the Nature of Reality, Devolutional Model of Development
Francis Mott’s work is less well known even by this field’s standards, yet it is undeniably impressive. Mott’s (1960, 1964) major contribution lies in his focusing on basic patterns of mind and cosmos that correlate with prenatal feelings and states. He traced consciousness back to events around conception and saw these events as instituting patterns affecting all later experience and conceptual constructions. Through dream analysis he elicited these “configurations,” and he demonstrated their manifestation as seemingly universal archetypes in myths and universal human assumptions about the nature of reality.
In fact, through his study of womb and conception patterns he claimed to have discovered patterns that underlie and unite all of reality at all levels of manifestation—astronomical, social, personal, cellular, and even nuclear. While this may seem rather grandiose, his work was highly regarded and admired by Carl Jung.
Mott also carried forward the intimations of earlier prenatal theoreticians, notably Rank and Fodor, on the gestational basis of archetypes. While he does not address or seek to discredit the range of, supposedly genetic, archetypes postulated by Jung, his work is highly suggestive of an experiential, specifically, pre- and perinatal, as opposed to genetic basis for many of these.
Denial and Incest Taboo
Mott (1960) also helped us to understand why if these prenatal memories are possible they are not more prevalent by suggesting denial is necessary in order to protect against incestuous feelings that might arise around feelings remembered from being inside one’s mother.
Devolutional Model of Consciousness Development
Finally, he made the postulation—hugely relevant to the theme of this work—that our original expanded capacity to feel is diminished, as he says, “divided,” by experience not increased by it. The idea is that there is a reduction in awareness as a result of early traumatic events, beginning around conception and then on, and not the buildup of consciousness and feeling that we assume from the mechanistic paradigm that sees consciousness as a byproduct of increasing physical, specifically brain, activity during our early years. (See, for example, The Doors of Perception: Each of Us Is Potentially Mind At Large… When Perception Is Cleansed, All Kinds of Nonordinary Things Happen and Occupy Science … A Call for a Scientific Awakening: In Tossing Away Our Species Blinders, We Approach a Truth Far Beyond Science.)
Later Theorists — Breathwork
Stanislav Grof — Breathwork, LSD, Birth and Prenatal, Myth and Archetype, Spiritual and Consciousness
A pioneer in this prenatal area is Stanislav Grof (1976, 1980, 1985, 1990, to name a few). His many works, providing a framework for conceptualizing perinatal and transpersonal experiences, are a profound and useful starting point for an investigation into this area.
In his use of LSD beginning in 1956 for psychotherapy, called psycholytic therapy, he discovered four levels of experience of the unconscious: the sensory, the biographical, the perinatal, and the transpersonal. He noted a tendency for growth and healing to occur in a progressive way through these levels. The sensory band is the level of expanded sensory awareness and is usually initially encountered by participants. The biographical band is the realm of the personal unconscious wherein unintegrated and traumatic memories and material from childhood and one’s personal history are retrieved, often relived, and integrated. The perinatal level of experience usually follows after dealing with the biographical material and involves the remembering, re-experiencing, and integrating of material that is related to the time prior to and surrounding birth. The transpersonal band, the level of spiritual experience, is usually reached after dealing with the other three levels.
Four Modes of Experiencing—the Basic Perinatal Matrices
Grof has also delineated four matrices of experience, four general experiential constructs, which he called basic perinatal matrices (BPMs). He discovered that experiences at all levels of the unconscious often group themselves in four general ways that are roughly related to the four stages of birth. Thus, Basic Perinatal Matrix I (BPM I) is related to the generally blissful or “oceanic” feelings that often characterize the fetus’s state in the womb in early and middle pregnancy. BPM II is characterized by “no exit,” hellish feelings that are related to the situation of the fetus in late pregnancy when the confines of the womb become ever more apparent but there is as yet no indication of any possibility of relief. BPM III relates to the birth process itself, the birth struggle, which is still characterized by feelings of compression and suffering but in which there is movement and change and thus hope of relief through struggle. If BPM II can be compared to hell, where there is no hope, BPM III is more like purgatory. Finally, BPM IV relates to the actual entry into the world, the termination of the birthing process, and is characterized by feelings of triumph, relief, and high, even manic, elation.
In his descriptions of the levels of experience and the matrices of perinatal experience, Grof has provided useful maps of the unconscious and experience in nonordinary states, which have incredible heuristic value in our understanding of cross-cultural religious and spiritual experience, psychopathology, personal growth, and consciousness and personality in general. And they have been utilized successfully in providing a context and guide for many tens of thousands of participants in his psycholytic and holotropic therapies.
However, while Grof is exhaustive in his descriptions of fetal and perinatal experience, he says less about the earlier experiences in the womb—the first trimester—and even less about conception and the experiences of sperm and egg—what is known as cellular consciousness. Still, this area is beginning to be discussed among his followers. And through his current nondrug modality, called holotropic breathwork, people are accessing these areas and beginning to give word to them (e.g., Carter, 1993).
Frank Lake—Breathwork, First Trimester, Early Experience as Foundation for Myths
Frank Lake, though less well-known again, has probably been the premier theoretician on the topic of prenatal events during the first three months of gestation. Just prior to his death in the early eighties, he wrote a culmination of his thirty-year investigation into pre- and perinatal influence in two works titled Tight Corners in Pastoral Counselling and The First Trimester. In these works he goes beyond his other works (for example, 1966) in placing the roots of all later experience, and in particular, distress, at the first three months of physical existence.
Lake began his investigation of re-experience in 1954. Like Stanislav Grof, he did this using LSD, initially, in the psycholytic therapy that was being developed at that time to facilitate therapeutic abreaction. Later he, again like Grof, developed a nondrug modality to accomplish the same thing. His method of “primal therapy” employed a type of fast breathing—again, like Grof’s later technique—to access theta-wave brain levels, which are levels of consciousness that he saw as crucial to accessing and integrating these memories.
His thirty-year research led him to the realization of the importance of ever earlier experience. Thus his earlier stress on the importance of birth gave way to his later emphasis on the first trimester in 1981 (Tight Corners in Pastoral Counselling) and in 1982 (The First Trimester).
His one other major disagreement with Grof was his belief that the mythological and symbolical elements described by Grof were a product of LSD and that the first trimester events were the actual roots of much of such symbolism and supposed transpersonal/mythological scenarios (1981, p. 35).
Later Theorists — Myth and Sacred Text/Mysticism
S. Giora Shoham — Devolutional Model of Development, Falls from Grace
While not strictly a pre- and perinatal psychologist, I include this too little-known theoretician and criminologist because of the close relationship and influence his work has had upon my own work regarding these Falls from Grace. Falls from Grace and other devolutional models of consciousness postulate that during life and over time, beginning at conception, we actually are reduced in consciousness and awareness, not increased in it, and it corresponds to a “brain as reducing valve” theory of consciousness. (Again, See The Doors of Perception and Occupy Science.)
While I initially constructed and wrote down my devolutional theory of consciousness—Falls from Grace—without the benefit of Shoham’s work, upon discovering it I could not help but be both confirmed and reinspired by the astounding resonance his understanding has with my own.
Shoham (1979, 1990) starts his devolutional model in the womb and carries it through birth, weaning, and the oedipal periods of development. Though, as I delineate in Part Two, I disagree with his model by beginning mine at the creation of sperm and egg—as does other devolutional theorists like Francis Mott and David Wasdell—in virtually all other major instances his model corresponds to my own if one simply … in keeping with a normal trend in child development in general as it begins to integrate the new pre- and perinatal evidence … places everything back a little farther in time—in this case, specifically, one stage back.
Later Prenatal Psychology Theorists — Cellular Memory and Conception, Foundations of Myth and Personality, Spirituality and Soul
Lietaert Peerbolte — Conception and Cellular Memory, Soul, Spirituality
Peerbolte (1954) was one of the earliest theorists to relate spirituality to conception and sperm/egg dynamics. In addition to claiming that a regression to conception is the inevitable result of all prenatal states, he traced the sense of “I” — the “I-function” — back to the egg, existing even in the mother’s ovaries. He further postulated that the spiritual self was invisibly present within the field of attraction between the egg and the sperm. Correspondingly, he was the first to point out that the existence of conception, preconception, and even ovulation symbolism in dreams indicates the existence of a soul. For, he asked, what mind records these events otherwise?
I wrote the article, “A Primal Perspective on Spirituality,” which later became the next chapter in this book before I knew about Peerbolte’s work. Yet, once again the conclusions I came to, especially about the existence of soul being established by the fact of these memories and especially those at the cellular levels of sperm and egg existence, are very much in line with his.
Michael C. Irving — Primal Therapy, Birth, Sperm, Egg, Myth, Dragon Symbolism, Prehistoric Cult and Ritual
Michael C. Irving is a primal therapist whose contributions include his relation of these earliest events from sperm and egg through the birth experience to fundamental mythological motifs and images across cultures. The originator of a way of interpretation that he calls natalism, he has brought together a host of artistic and artifactual images from a wide range of time periods and cultures which relate, with an astonishing degree of accuracy, to actual pre- and perinatal events.
In particular, he has traced the universal serpent/dragon motifs and mythology to birth and sperm experience, noting, among other things, that the serpent/dragon shape represents the birth canal or tunnel, that the fire-spewing characteristics of dragons relate to consuming pain, and that the constricting characteristics of snakes correspond to the constriction of the birth canal. Of great interest is his deduction that the widely prevalent snake and dragon cults, which were especially popular in prehistory, indicate an attempt to deal with such unfinished birth trauma material as we are only now, in modern times, rediscovering the importance of doing.
Graham Farrant — Primal Therapy; Sperm, Egg, Cellular Consciousness; Soul and Spirituality
Graham Farrant (1987; Buchheimer 1987), a psychiatrist and primal therapist from Australia, is probably the most influential and well-known of those discussing the phenomena that occur at the earliest times of our lives. In addition to echoing Frank Lake in describing fetal, implantation, and blastocyst feelings, he has been able to elicit and describe sperm and egg imprints. He has found trauma from these earliest events to influence lifelong patterns of personality and behavior. He produced a notable video in which segments from the widely acclaimed movie “The Miracle of Life,” which shows actual footage of gamete and zygote events, are juxtaposed via a split-screen with actual footage of a person reliving the exact same events in primal therapy, which occurred before such cellular events were ever able to be seen and recorded. The effect is astounding in the detail in which the relivings replicate the actual cellular happenings.
In addition to his emphasis on cellular consciousness, Farrant has stressed the spiritual aspects of these earliest events. He relates incidents of spiritual trauma at the cellular level in which the individual splits off from Divinity—thus setting up a lifelong feeling of loss and yearning and a desire to return to Unity and the Divine.
Paul Brenner — Sperm, Egg, Cellular Consciousness and Biological Foundations of Myths
Paul Brenner (1991), a biologist and obstetrician, has been presenting at conferences and in workshops on the idea of the biological foundations of myth. For example, he relates basic biological, cellular events to biblical events described in Genesis.
He also relates male and female adult behavior to basic patterns of sperm and egg behavior and to events prior to and surrounding conception. He has said that male and female behavior are just sperm and egg activity grown up!
Elizabeth Noble — Cellular Consciousness and Spirituality, Empirical Underpinnings
Elizabeth Noble (1993) is an educator in the field of pregnancy and childbirth and is a student of Farrant’s. She published a comprehensive overview of this new field, titled Primal Connections, in which she doesn’t hesitate to stress the issues of cellular consciousness and the spirituality that appears to coincide with the re-experience of these earliest events. She provides empirical and theoretical avenues for understanding how memory can occur at such early times. Some of these are consistent with mainstream physicalist science while others coincide with the cutting-edge, new-paradigm discoveries in fields such as biology, physics, and neuroscience.
David Wasdell — Sperm/Egg and First Trimester Imprints, Devolutional Model of Development, Social and Historical Implications
One of the more recent theoreticians in this area is David Wasdell. Wasdell’s (1979, 1985a, 1985b, 1990) major contribution lies in his relating these earliest events to social and cultural patterns. He describes a process of devolution of consciousness beginning at around conception and proceeding through other reductions caused by traumas at implantation, in the womb, and at birth.
Most importantly, he delineates how the result of this diminution of potentiality is projected outwards into the problems and crises of violence, wars, and the mediocrity of modern personality on the scale of the masses and the macrocosms of the group, society, and global events.
In describing the problems of “normality” as rooted in a deprivational and deformational series of traumas from our earliest biological history, Wasdell emphasizes that this gives us the possibility to change that tragic social and personality outcome by focusing on the prevention and healing of such traumas. Thus, he holds out the vision of a new person and new society as an outcome of the efforts directed at the earliest laying down of human experience.
The Importance of the Intrauterine for Understanding Our Times and the Goal of This Book
Despite this long legacy of work and thought in this pre- and perinatal area, much of it, especially the prenatal, remains ignored by mainstream psychology and is largely unavailable to the public. Within the field itself, in addition, the prenatal information, in relation to the more widely accepted and circulated perinatal evidence, seems to be analogous to Otto Rank’s (1929) ideas of birth trauma were to Sigmund Freud’s concerning early infancy in that they are cast under an extra cloud of suspicion and disbelief and disregarded accordingly. Yet, like Rank’s findings also, their main problem may lie with unfamiliarity and prejudice rather than validity or scientific viability; and these findings, like his were, may end up harkening the outlines of future endeavors and being confirmed by subsequent research.
Thus, I believe that this prenatal area in particular is ripe for reaping what it can teach us about what is human, about “human nature.”
Therefore, this book will put forth the possible relationship between our earliest ontogenetic experiences as humans and the structure of human consciousness and stages of human “development.”
I build a model that seeks an initial formulation of this information, teasing out its implications, and integrating it with relevant thinking and theoretical perspectives in anthropology, philosophy, psychology, and others.
However, before proceeding, it seems important to establish this pursuit within the logical-empirical framework that validates it. To do this, let us now turn to the re-experience movement I am most familiar with and feel to be the most important, primal therapy, and discuss its relation to the phenomenon of prenatal re-experience and spirituality.
Continue with How Valid Are Spiritual Experiences? Psychedelic Research and Deep Experiential Psychotherapy Have Intensified the Exploration of Spiritual Aspects of the Unconscious
Return to Falls from Grace, Introduction — The Radical Rational View of Us and It: “Normal” Truth Is Convenient Truth … and Is Anything But True
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“Don’t Despair. There Are Others Doing It With You, and We’re Here, Too”: Ritual As Shadow Experience, Part Eight — Always Are We Helping You
Sins of the Father and Cosmic Encouragement: What Real and Unritualized Spiritual Experience Looks Like — “But Always Are We Here Helping.”
I wish now to provide another example of real, unritualized spiritual experience … this time from my own life. What these experiences—that of my wife and myself—have in common are these things: (1) they were spontaneous occurrences … in no way planned, anticipated, or orchestrated by self or other; (2) they were growthful … they led to greater awareness, positive change, and in my case I can say for certainty, life transformation; (3) they came about in ways that had a supernatural quality about them, that is, transcending what is thought to be laws of nature or physics, and (4) they were experienced as a gift … a “blessing” — that is, the recipients did not feel they earned or deserved them.
So, the first quality of these experiences corresponds to my referring to them as unritualized; the next three, together, to why I put them in the category of spiritual.
Keeping those characteristics in mind, let us look at what I experienced one night in 1980, which I would remember ever afterward as perhaps the most unusual experience of my life but certainly the most transformative. It is not that I was not already looking in the direction this experience opened to me; it is not that I did not already have the beliefs or values it embodied; it is not that I was completely unaware of the kinds of things about us and our history that it clarified. No, I was fully prepared to receive what I got; spiritual experiences don’t make you something other than what you are … they facilitate you in becoming more of what you are already. So it is that I was confirmed in a path, I was given a profound direction for a lifetime, I was given … shown actually … knowledge about our history and our situation that was beyond anything anyone could know through normal channels of scholarship and research. And I was given reassurance and a promise of support and assistance in my life’s path.
So you might say it was more like an initiation. But unlike normal societal initiations that indoctrinate one into the roles of society and culture, this one initiated me on a singular spiritual path. So it is more like what a Native American might get on a vision quest. The other thing that comes to mind is the word confirmation. Brought up Catholic I once received a sacrament of confirmation. It involved a ritual that I can barely remember anything about. One becomes “confirmed” in the faith. Well this experience was not ritualized yet it definitely confirmed me on a path and with a set of beliefs and way of thinking about things that has stayed with me throughout the thirty-two years since it happened. Also, it is something I can remember in detail, as though it happened days ago … quite unlike the ritual “confirmation” I received at the age of … it was such a nonevent I can’t even remember my age at the time … about 13 or 14.
So let me share my story of my spontaneous, unritualized spiritual experience. First I wish to give you its context.
A Cosmic Slap on the Back
In the course of my own struggling to change, in primal therapy, I was at a particular place in 1980 where I was very much in despair at the immensity of the task of changing the programming that was dragging me down, that was keeping me from being the full human being — happy, fulfilled, fearless, and doing what I was meant to do in life — that I could see lying there in potential and that I could only sometimes be. It was therefore an encouragement to me when I had the experience that follows — like receiving a cosmic slap on the back, a gift from the Universe, and it helped me through that time. But I am convinced this experience has relevance also for all who are working hard at growing beyond their limited selves. I feel it might especially be of use to someone in a similarly hopeless-seeming place.
For these reasons I wish to share this experience. You can do with it whatever you like.
Before relating what happened, I want to say that although some might be tempted to call this experience a fantasy or a dream, it certainly did not feel that way to me at the time. I cannot doubt that an unusual thing happened to me, which was unlike anything else that I’d experienced prior to it or since. It was related to certain experiences I was having in my primaling but was very different from “having feelings.” I was not under the influence of any drugs, nor had I been previous to the incident. I had one beer that night.
One other note: I will leave the determination of who the “she” and the “we” were in the experience to the interpretation of the reader. I certainly don’t know for sure who she and they were, though I have my ideas — all of them highly positive. Also, the following, except for some minor editing, is exactly the way I wrote it the morning following the experience.
Journal Entry of June 28, 1980:
I was lying in bed last night with Maddie. Couldn’t sleep, air conditioner too loud. Suddenly I was aware of all this energy coursing through my body. Was really scaring me. My body zinging, intense ringing (buzzing?) in my ears, rushes flowing through me. Was scared I was going crazy, would hurt Maddie, would become possessed or something, etc. Tried focusing on my third eye so as to control it like I did in Portland.
That may have helped some, but I could sense, and was scared of, other “presences” in the room. I thought I heard a woman’s voice behind me over my left shoulder and that scared me. Without realizing the transition, I found myself projected into this panorama of history and a woman’s voice was narrating.
She described how once there had lived “noble” beings. I could see vast and colorful panoramas of peoples exuding “nobility” and “integrity” (for want of better words to describe what they were like). They walked and paraded before me and were all around me.
Then the woman explained that the peoples degenerated and, as if in demonstration, I began seeing battles and wars played out before my eyes. I was in the midst of them!
However, I was still aware that I was in my body lying on my bed, because I could feel myself against it. Even so I was afraid that I would begin taking on the bodies of participants in the battles and would feel pain like they were obviously feeling. This feeling was especially strong when I was in the midst of the convergence of two groups of warring parties (their garb reminded me of Israelites or people of Biblical times or something). The group I was facing were going at each other with hatchets and I was afraid of becoming a participant and possibly feeling an ax chunking into my neck or skull. But although it was happening all around me, nobody in the crowd noticed me; it was as if I wasn’t there. In fact at one point I believe they actually may have passed through me!
This scene passed, along with other dramas, and it was explained to me that now it was time for a regeneration of peoples on this “plane[?]” to regain their former “nobility[?],” “integrity[?]” (again for lack of better words).
Still feeling that I was conscious, i.e., knowing that it was all happening to me while I was really lying in bed; I let myself walk through many landscapes and terrains, which I felt I could easily have lived in at one time and which I felt had all existed at some time or place or did now exist somewhere in the world or Universe. I walked through small shack towns. I remember a small group of bedraggled people huddled together in one. There were many kinds of pastoral settings also: some beautiful with rolling, lush hills, and some not as beautiful — rocky terrain, etc. All seemed to be viable habitats for different people. I had the thought that these may have been places/lives that I had lived in at one time.
Certain places brought up bad feelings in me, foreboding, scared feelings. In fact it can be said that the whole time it was happening I was scared about the experience. I feared meeting some dangerous and evil entity or being stuck in an undesirable place. When I was in one particular environ/habitat that wasn’t very pleasant, I remembered something that Seth had said about consciously altering and changing his environment. In line with that I decided to stop believing in the one that I was in and see what happened.
What happened was that environment went away and then there was a blank grayness as I waited for a new scene to appear. I continued to be aware that I was in a trancelike state and that I had a body lying in bed. I would at times vaguely return to the feeling in my body and would feel myself on my back, hands and arms outstretched, mattress against my back, in a very deep state of relaxation and suspended animation which had a feeling of heaviness or deadness about it. My body didn’t need to move and it was perfectly comfortable.
I could hear the air conditioner running, also, and even Maddie’s breathing next to me. Several times, I don’t remember exactly when, Maddie had reached over and put her arm around me, both times only for an instant, before she rolled back away from me. Neither of the times did it disturb the deep state that I was in or cause me to rise at all out of it. I simply felt warm and good towards her at the affection she was showing me. I even had the thought that, considering the fact that she only did it for a moment before turning away, that somehow she knew what was going on, in some deeper, nonconscious part of herself, and was reassuring or encouraging me.
Anyway, I was securely very deep and felt that I wasn’t going to be suddenly disturbed from it unless, perhaps, I let it. But I really didn’t want to do that. I was rather scared and apprehensive most of the time, as mentioned, but, more importantly, it was all so damned interesting!
There is no doubt that I was thoroughly enjoying the color, the panorama, the expanse and freedom of consciousness, the fact that I was experiencing something important and that I had never experienced before, so that I dearly wanted to stay there despite the fear.
Sometime after the gray place, I believe it was, I was aware of some kind of light far off in the distance that I could travel to if I liked. At around that time I could hear Maddie saying to somebody (about my body in bed): “Is he moving at all? Is he breathing? Do you think he’s dead?” and so on. I remember thinking to myself how silly that sounded and that “No, I’m not dead, I’m just in this deep trance and everything.” But then suddenly I began to wonder if maybe I was dead! It had all been so strange that maybe I had actually died in my sleep!
At that point I recalled the accounts I’d heard and read about of people dying and not knowing they were dead, how they would often hang around and watch other people’s reaction to their death (and this could go on for days). I remembered how Steve had once told me something to the extent that if that should happen that one shouldn’t get carried away and fascinated by the after-death state but that one should “get down on one’s knees” (figuratively speaking) and search out the source and the presence of God. Thinking that was perhaps when I actually looked around and saw the light.
At any rate, I found myself wondering if I wanted to be dead. This place was certainly an interesting one, even with the apprehensions. And it sure seemed to be a change (so far, anyway) from the constant struggling to survive and grow. But I also felt that there were just so many loose ends left unresolved in my life. There were so many areas that I’d made good progress in but had not yet taken to completion. My love for Maddie (next to me), which was only just beginning, came to my mind as an example.
And so I decided to find out if I was dead or not, both to know if I should go heading for the light (if I was) or to reassure Maddie (if I wasn’t). I determined to get into my body and, with an effort and strain, I forced myself up from the depths, forcing my body to move and sit up. I was mildly surprised to find that I was able to do this, bringing myself into physicality and into a half-sitting position. In this position I looked over to see Maddie sleeping next to me, I could hear the air conditioner whining, and so forth. I realized then that she hadn’t “physically” been sitting over me, talking about me, but I also felt that some part of her must have. (We used to have this thing when we slept together that often we would feel like we had been communicating with each other on some kind of subconscious level the whole night long. We wouldn’t ever remember all that we had said but we would often both remark about it the next morning).
Realizing that I wasn’t dead, I lay back down and let myself drift back into the deepness. All I remember, after this point, is talking to Maddie, probably about what had happened to me, explaining it to her, though I’m not sure that was all of it. Also I remember at least one other time, maybe two, forcing myself to waking consciousness to see if Maddie was awake (as if in an experiment), because it really seemed that we were actually, physically awake and talking to each other. I thought we were lying in bed physically talking. It was hard to believe it when I forced myself awake only to find her lying beside me asleep.
After that there were some actual dreams, quite different from what had been going on earlier. I fell into sleeping and dreamed of being in my Grandmother’s home. I remember reading a book, sitting in a chair in her kitchen. There were other people there also; they were sitting in the same kind of straight-backed, none-too-comfortable wooden chairs.
I remember that early on, when I was doing all the traveling and stuff, that I didn’t know how I’d possibly remember all the experiences that happened to me and all the things that I saw and learned. It seemed like a lot of time was crammed into that short period. I remembered hoping just that I would retain as much of it as I could, especially hoping that I wouldn’t just blot it all out as it felt important.
Don’t Despair, There Are Others Doing It With You, and We’re Here, Too
I feel like the meaning of the part about the regeneration of the peoples on this plane was an answer to my despair at working on getting through my feelings. It’s like it was saying: “Sure it’s hard! What you’re talking about is the reversal of hundreds of generations of degenerate and violent habit, custom, and activity. But we’re talking about changing that also, and you’re not the only one working at it. There are many others in your time period struggling to do it just like you.”
And the feeling that left me with was/is “So don’t despair. There are others like you doing it, and we’re (out here) helping you too.”
Sins of The Father
Now, having conveyed what I wrote the morning after the experience, I wish to add that regardless of how you may wish to label the preceding experience, it remains one whose message has stayed with me through all the intervening years — thirty-two of them in fact. It is a message that has rung true and helped me through other difficult spaces. Indeed, I still reflect on it and can’t help believing there is a lot to it. Consider: Generation after generation of Western culture has engaged — with little awareness of the consequences — in passing down their personal pain and trauma, in some form or other, onto their offspring. And they in turn dump it on theirs. We know that child abusers were themselves abused as children; but this is just a very blatant example of how the pattern operates. On and on and back through into hazy unrecorded history this situation has existed; this vicious cycle has perpetuated itself.
But many of us in these extraordinary times, and goaded on by the specter of global catastrophe, for one thing are saying: “Let it end with me!”; “Let us not continue this madness any further!” Attempting to break the cycle of “kill and be killed,” of hurting and then inflicting hurt, attempting to halt the prevailing insanity, we make the Gandhian effort to take the energy into ourselves, to change ourselves lest we, also, be like the generation before — forever passing on the insane legacy.
So why should we think this would be easy?! We are trying to bring to an end, in our single lifetimes, the accumulated results of untold generations of our ancestors dumping their pain and insanity onto their descendants.
But Always Are We Here Helping
So of course it’s hard! And for me to realize this fact allows me to accept it. That is, it allows me to accept this task and to take up my place in the ranks of those arrayed in the purpose of undoing the craziness rather than to turn away in despair at the immensity of the task or to quaver in paralysis before it.
This experience has also provided me with a wonderful outlook on the people around me. I look around to the many people who are working spiritually to change themselves and this crazy world — who are serving, mending, and healing others and themselves. In doing so I have this sense of brother/sisterhood — that we are all engaged in an immense undertaking . . . that we are synergizing our energies in an endeavor which is not merely crucial, it is imperative . . . not just for our personal growth, for our personal satisfaction or well-being — although that’s not to be discounted — it is necessary for the very survival of this planet.
I feel that if this task had been easier it would have been done long ago by well-intentioned ancestors. Indeed, it may only be because the survival of this planet is now at stake that substantial numbers of us have at this point, finally, accepted the challenge.
Many of us are aware of the seeming intractability of the situation we face — both personally and globally. But what I feel now is not so much the despair at the difficulty of the task but rather, because of what I was taught through this experience, I feel a sense of belongingness, cosmic belongingness, if you will . . . a sense that I’m not alone. I feel that many others are working at this same thing in this day and age. Our combined energies — along with the energies of the Universe that are working with us — together constitute an incredible force. Confronted with the enterprise we have before us, this force may just be sufficient to do on this planet what has never been done before here (as far as we know).
So to all who occasionally despair, I can only repeat, “Sure it’s hard, but always are we here helping you.”
Continue with Vision Quests, UFO Abductions, Brainwashings, and Boot Camps: Ritual As Shadow, Part Nine — Initiation, Authentic and Inauthentic
Return to “You Shall Know the Truth and the Truth Shall Make You Free” … What Real and Unritualized Spiritual Experience Looks Like
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Love’s Comforting Surround and the Beauty of It All Behind the Pain: Ritual As Shadow Experience, Part Six, and What Real Spiritual Experience Looks Like
“God Is So Merciful” … Let Go, Let God: An Example of Unritualized Primal Spirituality, A Primal Re-Experience after Birth
Part Two of a Primal Re-Experience after Birth: God’s Omnipresent Comforting Surround
In the first part—“Excerpt from Actual Primal Re-Experience after Birth“—the experiencer in this actual primal therapy session reconnected to and released primal pain related to her having her umbilical cord cut too early and then being swaddled tightly making her feel suffocated and unable to move. She felt this had contributed to lifelong feelings of being held back and unable to assert herself.
In this second part—another excerpt from the same much longer session, which takes up only moments after the first part ends—Mary Lynn Adzema, the experiencer, begins to feel a glowing light of protection enveloping her, which she senses as being, perhaps, a “guardian angel” then simply God, or God’s Love. She experiences the spiritual idea that God gives you only that much pain that you can bear, but no more, which is accompanied by tears of gratitude.
The facilitator is Michael Adzema, the experiencer’s husband and the author of these words. I have forty years experience in deep experiential modalities, including primal therapy, holotropic breathwork, and rebirthing; and I have been trained in these three modalities. I have been facilitating others in these—especially primal therapy—since 1975. I wrote “A Primal Perspective on Spirituality” in 1979, which was published by the Journal of Humanistic Psychology in 1985. This article was the first to proclaim the occurrence of spiritual experiences occurring to long-term primallers, which take them further along in healing beyond what Arthur Janov contended could occur by just feeling through one’s primal pain.
The article presented a theory of primal pain, healing, and spirituality congruent with Janov’s theories but totally at odds with Janov’s early on proclamation and then continued insistence, based solely on speculation, that all spiritual experiences were derivative of underlying primal pain. That is a notion I believe has at this point been thoroughly disproved by my work, by the experiences of some other long-term primallers, and by the experiences common to Stanislav Grof‘s holotropic breathwork — a modality in which primal pain is accessed as well as a diverse array of transpersonal experiences and phenomena. In addition, they are confirmed by prenatal/perinatal researchers as I have explained elsewhere.
I have no doubt on this matter, personally, since I have had many primal-spiritual experiences through primalling and breathwork over the decades, some of which I was able to corroborate through outside sources. I began having these only after I had been doing deep experiential primal work for several years that did not involve transpersonal/ spiritual experiences. So I feel my primal work opened me up to being able to go beyond the strict designs of primal therapy in a way that would otherwise not have been possible if I had not gone through it.
At any rate, my wife’s primal experiences contain spiritual elements, though they were not sought and, like myself, they did not occur in the early years of her primal experiences. As her facilitator in primal therapy in the most recent years, I did not encourage them either … I simply did not discourage them or encourage her to reinterpret her experience in any other way than of her choosing, as was done in the early years of primal therapy and for those who undergo Janovian-style primal therapy.
In this video—the next part of her primal session—other aspects of her primal-spiritual experience unfold.
Part Three of a Primal Re-Experience After Birth: “Let Go, Let God”
The experiencer, Mary Lynn Adzema, had earlier (video 1) re-experienced the pain of being forcibly removed from the womb before she was ready—she was caesarean born. And she had felt a sudden assault of sensation upon removal from the protection of the womb without any transition time, which caused her to fear sensation and even wanting to feel or be in her body much throughout her life. She had re-experienced the cutting of the umbilical cord, which occurred too soon, and which made her feel, directly upon coming into the world, that the doctor was actually trying to kill her.
Incidentally, from sessions previous to this one, the experiencer had learned that this cesarean removal by surgical knife, the assault of sensations following it, and then the cutting of the umbilical cord too soon had caused her a lifetime of complications. She had made the connection that these events were the roots of a considerable amount of fear she had lived with.
She knows that these were the causes of a frequent recurrent dream of a life-and-death struggle with a man who would try to get into her house, who had a knife, and who she thought was trying to kill her. These dreams were so powerful, and I can attest to this, that she would have violent movements, would shout out loudly in a ferocious voice to “get away” “get out of here,” and so on, and she would clench her fists and pound them into the air. She would do all this while sleeping and without any remembrance afterward. These dreams stopped after she began re-experiencing the events in sessions such as the one shown.
The second video continues with her relating more about the assault of sensations but also depicts how after her cesarean birth she experienced being swaddled tightly making her feel suffocated, which she related to a lifelong feeling of being “held back.” But she also has experiences of being comforted by a light that envelops her and which she equates with God. She has realizations of the omnipresence of God throughout life’s trials.
The events here in part three follow directly after those of part two. In this video, the experiencer relates her exhausting struggle to keep fear at bay her whole life and how in the therapy she learned that she could let go, that she did not have to struggle, that instead she felt comforted instead of being overwhelmed with fear (Let Go, Let God).
She makes the statement that “God is so merciful.” At the same time she is having feelings of love and gratitude for the blessings of the experience she has undergone, for what she has learned, for the help of the facilitator in coming through this harrowing experience, and for being able to end with such insight and glorious feelings of the beauty of it all behind the pain.
Continue with “You Shall Know the Truth and the Truth Shall Make You Free” … What Real and Unritualized Spiritual Experience Looks Like
Return to Ritual As Shadow Experience, Part Five: What Real and Unritualized Spiritual Experience Looks Like — An Example of Primal Spirituality
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