We have now spent several months—about six of them, in fact—digging around the concept of hell. I have pointed out that although it is deeply embedded in our culture, the Dante’s Inferno view of hell is not biblical. I have observed that hell does not register as a location on any GPS system. I have quoted theological views suggesting that hell may be something other than after-death punishment for bad behavior.
But the fact remains that whether or not we consider hell to be politically correct, or a belief we agree with, or a concept we despise, some people experience near-death and similar events that act very much like the traditional descriptions of hell.
Where do we go from here?
Today we are going to the fifty years of exploring non-ordinary states of consciousness conducted by psychiatrist Stanislav Grof and his partner (and wife) Christina Grof. Over their five decades of research, the Grofs have built what he refers to as “a useful source of data about the human psyche and the nature of reality.”
Exactly where we wish to go!
a useful source of data about the human psyche and the nature of reality
The quotes below are brief excerpts from a lengthy article. A link to the complete article appears at the end of this post.
Psychology of the Future: Lessons from Modern Consciousness Research
Stanislav Grof, M.D.
… My primary interest is to focus on experiences that have healing, transformative, and evolutionary potential and those that represent a useful source of data about the human psyche and the nature of reality. I will also pay special attention to those aspects of these experiences that reveal the existence of the spiritual dimensions of existence. For this purpose, the term non-ordinary states of consciousness is too general, since it includes a wide range of conditions that are not interesting or relevant from this point of view.
…I would, therefore, like to narrow our discussion to a large and important subgroup of non-ordinary states of consciousness for which contemporary psychiatry does not have a specific term. Because I feel strongly that they deserve to be distinguished from the rest and placed into a special category, I have coined for them the name holotropic (Grof 1992).
This composite word means literally “oriented toward wholeness” or “moving in the direction of wholeness” (from the Greek holos = whole and trepein = moving toward or in the direction of something). The full meaning of this term and the justification for its use will become clear later in this article. It suggests that in our everyday state of consciousness we are fragmented and identify with only a small fraction of who we really are.
…Holotropic states are characterized by a specific transformation of consciousness associated with dramatic perceptual changes in all sensory areas, intense and often unusual emotions, and profound alterations in the thought processes. They are also usually accompanied by a variety of intense psychosomatic manifestations and unconventional forms of behavior. Consciousness is changed qualitatively in a very profound and fundamental way, but it is not grossly impaired as it is in the delirant conditions. We are experiencing invasion of other dimensions of existence that can be very intense and even overwhelming. However, at the same time, we typically remain fully oriented and do not completely lose touch with everyday reality. We experience simultaneously two very different realities, have ‘each foot in a different world.’
…The emotions associated with holotropic states cover a very broad spectrum that extends far beyond the limits of our everyday experience. They range from feelings of ecstatic rapture, heavenly bliss, and ‘peace that passeth all understanding’ to episodes of abysmal terror, murderous anger, utter despair, consuming guilt, and other forms of unimaginable emotional suffering that matches the descriptions of the tortures of hell in the great religions of the world.
The content of holotropic states is often spiritual or mystical. We can experience sequences of psychological death and rebirth and a broad spectrum of transpersonal phenomena, such as feelings of oneness with other people, nature, the universe, and God. We might uncover what seem to be memories from other incarnations, encounter powerful archetypal beings, communicate with discarnate entities, and visit numerous mythological landscapes. Holotropic experiences of this kind are the main source of cosmologies, mythologies, philosophies, and religious systems describing the spiritual nature of the cosmos and of existence. They are the key for understanding the ritual and spiritual life of humanity from shamanism and sacred ceremonies of aboriginal tribes to the great religions of the world.
…Holotropic states tend to engage something like an “inner radar,” bringing into consciousness automatically the contents from the unconscious that have the strongest emotional charge, are most psychodynamically relevant at the time, and are available for processing at that particular time.
…On the one hand, they appear on the same experiential continuum as the biographical and perinatal experiences and are thus coming from within the individual psyche. On the other hand, they seem to be tapping directly, without the mediation of the senses, into sources of information that are clearly far beyond the conventional reach of the individual.
… These observations indicate that we can obtain information about the universe in two radically different ways: besides the conventional possibility of learning through sensory perception and analysis and synthesis of the data, we can also find out about various aspects of the world by direct identification with them in a holotropic state of consciousness. Each of us thus appears to be a microcosm containing in a holographic way the information about the macrocosm
… The existence and nature of transpersonal experiences violates some of the most basic assumptions of mechanistic science. They imply such seemingly absurd notions as relativity and arbitrary nature of all physical boundaries, non-local 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. Many transpersonal experiences involve events from the microcosm and the macrocosm, realms that cannot normally be reached by unaided human senses, or from historical periods that precede the origin of the solar system, formation of planet earth, appearance of living organisms, development of the nervous system, and emergence of homo sapiens.
… If they are allowed to run their full course and are properly integrated, they represent a healing mechanism of extraordinary power.
…[A]ll that Freudian psychoanalysis has discovered about the human psyche represents at best the exposed part of the iceberg, while vast domains of the unconscious resisted Freud’s efforts and remained hidden even for him. Mythologist Joseph Campbell, using his incisive Irish humor, put it very succinctly: “Freud was fishing, while sitting on a whale.”
…According to Jung, the psyche is not a product of the brain; it is a cosmic principle (anima mundi) that permeates all of existence and our individual psyche partakes in this cosmic matrix. The intellect is just a partial function of the psyche, which makes it possible for us to orient ourselves in practical situations and solve everyday problems; it is incapable to fathom and manipulate the psyche.
… From the point of view of Western science, the material world represents the only reality and any form of spiritual belief is seen as reflecting lack of education, primitive superstition, magical thinking, or regression to infantile patterns of functioning. Direct experiences of spiritual realities are then relegated to the world of gross psychopathology, serious mental disorders. Western psychiatry makes no distinction between a mystical experience and a psychotic experience and sees both as manifestations of mental disease. In its rejection of religion, it does not differentiate primitive folk beliefs or fundamentalists’ literal interpretations of scriptures from sophisticated mystical traditions and Eastern spiritual philosophies based on centuries of systematic introspective exploration of the psyche. It pathologizes spirituality of any kind and together with it the entire spiritual history of humanity.
the psyche is not a product of the brain; it is a cosmic principle (anima mundi) that permeates all of existence
…Spirituality involves a special relationship between the individual and the cosmos and is in its essence a personal and private affair. At the cradle of all great religions were visionary (perinatal and/or transpersonal) experiences of their founders, prophets, saints, and even ordinary followers. All major spiritual scriptures – the Vedas, the Buddhist Pali Canon, the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and many others are based on revelations in holotropic states of consciousness.
…As we have seen, the observations from the research of holotropic states … require a drastic revision of our thinking in [psychiatry and psychology]. However, many of them are of such a fundamental nature that they transcend the narrow frame of these disciplines and challenge the most basic metaphysical assumptions of Western science and its Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm. They seriously undermine the belief that consciousness is a product of neurophysiological processes in the brains and thus an epiphenomenon of matter; they strongly suggest that it is a primary attribute of all existence.
[To read the entire 30+-paged article, which includes a description of Grof’s convictions about the perinatal nature of non-ordinary states of consciousness, go here.]