“Transpersonal….consciousness transcends the boundaries of the body/ego and the usual limitations of linear time and three-dimensional space.” Stan Grof
We are pleased to offer this series overviewing Stanislav Grof’s lecture, The Consciousness Revolution: New Perspectives in Psychiatry, Psychology, and Psychotherapy given at the XVII International Transpersonal Conference in Moscow on June 24, 2010. In this third post from our series, Grof expands the accepted map of the human psyche by adding two domains of consciousness. For background, read our previous posts, The Conscious Revolution: New Perspectives and The Nature of Consciousness and its Relationship to Matter. All text taken directly from the transcript is in italics. Click here for a free PDF of Grof’s lecture.
Prior to presenting an expanded model of the psyche, Grof begins with the traditional Freudian theory which divides the psyche into conscious and unconscious domains. This Freudian model, which has been modified, expanded, and refined over many years has been adopted by mainstream psychology and psychiatry.
According to Sigmund Freud, our psychological history begins after we are born; the newborn is a tabula rasa, a clean slate. Our psychological functioning is determined by an interplay between biological instincts and influences that have shaped our life since we came into this world – the quality of nursing, the nature of toilet training, various psychosexual traumas, development of the superego, our reaction to the Oedipal triangle, and conflicts and traumatic events in later life. Who we become and how we psychologically function is determined by our postnatal personal and interpersonal history.
The individual unconscious is a repository of what we have forgotten, rejected…, and repressed. This underworld of the psyche…is a realm dominated by primitive instinctual forces. Freud described the relationship between the conscious psyche and the unconscious using his famous image of the submerged iceberg. What we thought to be the totality of the psyche is just a small part of it, like the section of the iceberg showing above the surface.
The much larger, submerged part of the ice berg is unconscious and, unbeknown to us, governs our thought processes and behavior.
From his work with holotropic states of consciousness, Grof has concluded that this mainstream model is painfully inadequate and that two additional domains of understanding need to be included in a map of the psyche: the perinatal and the transpersonal.
The first of these domains can be referred to as perinatal, because of its close connection with the trauma of biological birth. This region of the unconscious contains the memories of what the fetus experienced in the consecutive stages of the birth process, including all the emotions and physical sensations involved.
Grof refers to these memories as Basic Perinatal Matrices (BPM I-IV) which consist of memories of the birth process, from contractions, birth channel passage to the birth itself. These matrices are not limited to the physical pre-natal experience and memories….
…each of them also represents a selective opening into the areas of the historical and archetypal collective unconscious, which contain motifs of similar experiential quality.
Academic psychiatry dismisses the ideas that the biological birth process is recorded in memory. Mainstream psychology disbelieves that birth memory is possible because the newborn’s cerebral cortex is not mature enough to mediate and record of the birth event. More specifically, the cortical neurons are not yet completely covered with protective sheaths of a fatty substance called myelin.
The myelinization argument makes no sense and is in conflict with scientific evidence of various kinds. It is well known that memory exists in organisms that do not have a cerebral cortex at all, let alone a myelinized one.
The transpersonal, Grof’s second new psychic domain, offers significant yet controversial insights into the psyche.
…it includes a rich array of experiences in which consciousness transcends the boundaries of the body/ego and the usual limitations of linear time and three-dimensional space…This region harbors mythological figures, themes, and realms of all the cultures and ages, even those of which we have no intellectual knowledge.
The existence and nature of transpersonal experiences violates some of the most basic assumptions of materialistic science. They imply such seemingly absurd notions as relativity and arbitrary nature of all physical boundaries, nonlocal connections in the universe, communication through unknown means and channels, memory without a material substrate, nonlinearity of time, or consciousness associated with all living organisms, and even inorganic matter.
Grof is committed to the ontological reality of transpersonal experiences…
Having spent more than half a century studying transpersonal experiences, I have no doubt that they are ontologically real and are not products of metaphysical speculation, human imagination, or pathological processes in the brain.
Grof compares his work with transpersonal pioneer Ken Wilber’s work. Although Grof has not created a hierarchical map of the psychic in the way that Wilbur has, he overlays his own discoveries onto Wilber’s structure which includes…..
Low subtle, or astral-psychic level of consciousness — out-of-body experiences, certain occult knowledge, auras, true magic, astral travel, and more.
Lower causal level — experiences of God or gods, the ground, essence, archetypal manifestations.
Higher causal realm — total and utter transcendence and release into Formless Consciousness, Boundless Radiance.
Absolute realm — the Original Condition which is… all that is, gross, subtle, or causal. The distinction between the witness and the witnessed disappears.
Using his personal and experimental holotropic experiences, Grof adds to Wilber’s psychic map by taking his work even further into the realm of the psychoid…
I would also add here from my own classification a category of experiences that I call psychoid…This group includes situations, in which intrapsychic experiences are associated with corresponding changes in the external world (or better in consensus reality). Psychoid experiences cover a wide range from synchronicities and ceremonial magic to psychokinesis and other mind-over-matter phenomena…”
In conclusion, Geoff returns to the iceberg…
…we could now paraphrase Freud’s simile of the psyche as an iceberg. We could say that everything Freudian analysis has discovered about the psyche represents just the top of the iceberg showing above the water. Research of holotropic states has made it possible to explore the colossal rest of the iceberg hidden under water, which has escaped the attention of Freud and his followers, with the exception of the remarkable renegades Otto Rank and C. G. Jung. Mythologist Joseph Campbell, known for his incisive Irish humor, used a different metaphor: “Freud was fishing while sitting on a whale.”
More from The Consciousness Revolution coming soon…. stay tuned.
Click here to download a free PDF of the transcript of Grof’s lecture. Visit Stan Grof’s Teacher Page for more information about Stan and his extensive research into the healing and transformative potential of non-ordinary states of consciousness. Additionally, he has had significant influence on the integration of science and transpersonal psychology.