rsz_stangrof

Stanislav Grof – the Einstein of consciousness

When the history of the renaissance of consciousness is written, Stan Grof will be one of its key intellectual figures. He began as a psychotherapist in Prague in the 50s, originally fascinated by the classic works of Freud.

He was training in psychotherapy when the first wave of psychedelic research began. The inventors of LSD, Sandoz Labs, first sent round samples of their drug to research centres with a request that doctors use it and report back any clinical uses they found. Initially it was thought that it might act as a ‘psychomimetic’ – a way of recreating a psychotic state in an otherwise healthy person. It was suggested that doctors took it to experience the world as some of their disturbed patients may see it. Grof, along with many other pioneers such as Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary, had a quite different experience when he first took it in 1956. He experienced a profound mystical opening.

“My consciousness was catapulted out of my body, I lost the clinic, I lost the research assistant, I lost Prague, I lost the planet, then I had the feeling that my consciousness had no boundaries. I had this incredible experience of cosmic consciousness. I thought, well this is by far the most interesting thing you can do as a psychiatrist – working with these non-ordinary states of consciousness.”

He continued to work with LSD in the government labs of Czechoslovakia, probing the depths of the experience with his patients for nearly a decade. He became one of the most experienced psychedelic researchers in the world, believing, with many of his fellow researchers that psychedelics: “used responsibly and with proper caution, would be for psychiatry what the microscope is for biology and medicine or the telescope is for astronomy.”

It was a huge growth time for psychedelic scientific research, with dramatic results being reported across many different studies, including treatment for addiction, end-of-life anxiety and other famous experiments involving mystical experience.

He left Prague in 1967 for the Maryland Psychiatric Research Centre in the US, shortly before the Russian tanks rolled in to crush the Prague Spring of 1968.

But the backlash against the drugs had already begun by the mid 60s and they were being banned around the world. Grof’s centre in Maryland was the last surviving licensed bastion of psychedelic research until 1971, when their LSD research was finally banned for good.

His main focus was on what he termed ‘non-ordinary states of consciousness’. At the start of psychological research at the turn of the century, these states were studied, but they fell out of fashion. One of the fathers of analytical psychology, William James said: “Our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness. Whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. No account of the universe in its totality can be final that leaves these disregarded.”

Grof was determined to explain them, but it was difficult when there wasn’t even an accepted language within psychotherapy to describe them. The term ‘altered states’ he rejected as it suggested that there was a normal, appropriate state of consciousness and that all others were a diversion from that: “They were seen as pathologies, with no greater use for them”. He settled on ‘non-ordinary states’ and later coined the word ‘holotropic’ to describe them.

These non-ordinary states were not only drug-induced, he also talked about states created by spiritual practice such as deep meditation, fasting or breathing exercises. After LSD was banned, he moved out of academia into the human potential movement at Esalen (http://www.esalen.org/ ) in California. He developed a system called Holotropic Breathwork, which created a ‘non-ordinary state’ of consciousness without the use of drugs.

“Holos means whole, and Tropic, moving towards. Moving towards wholeness, or oriented towards wholeness. What that means is that we are not whole the way we are in ordinary consciousness.

The basic idea behind this term is that we only identify with a fraction of who we are in the ordinary state of consciousness. I usually use a kind of Hindu shorthand from the Upanishads, where the question, ‘Who am I’ is answered as ‘Tvat Vam Asi’, or ‘Thou Art That’, you are not name and shape, the body and ego, you have a larger identity which is one with the creative principle, the creative energy of the universe.

Now this is not a philosophical speculation, this is something that can be tested. In non-ordinary states you can have the experience of your boundaries melting and your consciousness expanding so it encompasses much larger units – becoming other people, experiencing group consciousness, identification with archetypal beings, visits to archetypal realms etcetera. You can also have the experience of becoming one with the divine, with the creative principle, the great spirit – whatever the name is from whichever different spiritual traditions.”

Though he looked towards spiritual traditions for useful terms to explain the experience, he is not a fan of religion, seeing religions as spiritual traditions that have effectively lost touch with the source of realisation.

“We would not have religions if it was not for these holotropic states. At the start of all religious traditions we have these visionary experiences, of the prophets, saints or the founders of the religion or the early disciples. When it becomes an organised religion that’s a different story, it often loses connection to the spiritual source and becomes about politics and secular things, controlling people, possessions and hierarchies.

There is a major difference between spirituality, which is a direct experience of these normally invisible dimensions of reality – a very private thing, it’s between me and the universe and it’s based on personal experience, and religion. What I’m talking about is spirituality, and that is found primarily in the mystical branches of the religions, or the monastic branches, where people do spiritual practice.”

His belief was also that all great creativity also comes from these holotropic states, where figures such as Mozart or Puccini would say that they found their symphonies already written in their consciousness, and it was then just a case of writing them down. More recently Nobel prize winners Francis Crick, (discoverer of DNA) and Kary Mullis also had their realisations while under the influence of psychedelics.

Through the use of psychedelics and rigorous mapping of the depths of the psyche that he uncovered, he moved further and further away from a Freudian understanding of human behaviour and the psyche.

What came out of his research was the creation of a new field of psychology called the transpersonal. Relying of the work of CJ Jung, he mapped out a much greater concept of a universal, collective unconscious, containing all the mythologies, collected wisdom and experience of all civilisations from the dawn of time. He and the other psychologists he was working with including the celebrated Abraham Maslow believed that this unconscious was shared and accessible to all, especially during these non-ordinary states of consciousness.

“Experiences occurring in psychedelic sessions cannot be described in terms of the narrow and superficial conceptual model used in academic psychiatry and psychology, which is limited to biology, postnatal biography, and the Freudian individual unconscious,” Grof wrote. “Deep experiential work requires a vastly extended cartography of the psyche that includes important domains uncharted by traditional science.

The renaissance of interest in Eastern spiritual philosophies, various mystical traditions, meditation, ancient and aboriginal wisdom, as well as the widespread psychedelic experimentation during the stormy 1960s,” Grof later wrote, “made it absolutely clear that a comprehensive and cross-culturally valid psychology had to include observations from such areas as mystical states; cosmic consciousness; psychedelic experiences; trance phenomena; creativity; and religious, artistic, and scientific inspiration.”

In his later life he began to focus on the wider cultural context of his work. He wrote a book called ‘Psychology of the Future’ which looked at what would need to change within our worldview in order to understand and accommodate the experiences he had found. His key argument was that our culture has been blinded by its technical and scientific success into believing that this was all there is, and that the systematic suppression of holotropic states was both a result, and a cause of this.

“There is a tremendous difference between the industrial societies and all the previous cultures. Difference in worldview. Now clearly we know much more about the material world than these cultures ever knew. In terms of technology there is no comparison. In terms of the spiritual dimension, all the ancient and aboriginal cultures, without exception, believed that there are dimensions of reality that are ordinarily invisible. They believe that in some sense that consciousness is superior to matter, that consciousness does not end with death, there is a continuity, a reincarnation.

But for western industrial society this is a material universe, the history of the universe is a history of developing matter. Much of it happened without any participation of consciousness, without any participation of creative intelligence, it happened in a very small infinitesimal part of the universe after billions of years – life originated – and then consciousness originated as a very small, epiphenomenon of the neurophysiological processes of the brain. In that world view there is absolutely no place for spirit. To be spiritual from a purely materialist scientific psychiatric perspective is to be primitive, uneducated, to be gullible, to be into primitive thinking. And when someone has spiritual experiences we give them diagnoses and put them on tranquillisers.

There is a fundamental difference between these groups of people in terms of spirituality – the usual explanation is that they didn’t have science, that we have superior scientific understanding.

The way I would see it after 45 years working in this field is that it has something to do with their relation to these holotropic states. All these previous societies held these states in very high esteem and spent lots of time and energy creating powerful and safe ways of inducing them, and they were regularly practicing them. They would have their regular practices, and then once in a while they would have their ritual where a group of people, or the whole tribe would go into these holotropic states, and they’re so powerful and so convincing that once you have them you have to build them into your worldview – there’s no way you can ignore that kind of experience – it would be like trying to talk me out of the fact that there’s a microphone here.

I see the major difference now as being the naivety of the industrial civilisations in relation to these holotropic states. While the native cultures were all using them and combining in their worldview these two states of mind, we have eliminated the holotropic dimension out of our lives. We discourage these experiences, we have even outlawed the means and the contexts for creating them, and when people have them spontaneously we have created a pathology and we suppress them, so we don’t have information coming from that domain.”

Like many of the other key thinkers such as Richard Tarnas and Joseph Campbell, who came of age in the 60s, Grof’s philosophy is one based in experience beyond the intellect. For a long time ignored or dismissed by the mainstream, he sees it as vitally important for the survival and the evolution of our culture, that insights like his are recognised and absorbed into the worldview. With the conflicts and controversies of the 60s now fading into history, perhaps that can now begin to happen.


 

 

– Stan Grof’s website.

 

Science and Spirituality – article by Grof on Huffington Post

 

Excellent longer article on Grof from Alternet

 

– Video presentation of ‘The Future of Psychotherapy’

 

– Richard Tarnas uses Stan Grof’s theory of the perinatal (birth trauma) and applies it to the history of western culture: Epilogue to ‘The Passion of the Western Mind’

 

Full list of articles by Grof on his website

When the history of the renaissance of consciousness is written, Stan Grof will be one of its key intellectual figures. He began as a psychotherapist in Prague in the 50s, originally fascinated by the classic works of Freud.

He was training in psychotherapy when the first wave of psychedelic research began. The inventors of LSD, Sandoz Labs, first sent round samples of their drug to research centres with a request that doctors use it and report back any clinical uses they found. Initially it was thought that it might act as a ‘psychomimetic’ – a way of recreating a psychotic state in an otherwise healthy person. It was suggested that doctors took it to experience the world as some of their disturbed patients may see it.

Grof, along with many other pioneers such as Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary, had a quite different experience when he first took it in 1956. He experienced a profound mystical opening.

“My consciousness was catapulted out of my body, I lost the clinic, I lost the research assistant, I lost Prague, I lost the planet, then I had the feeling that my consciousness had no boundaries.

I had this incredible experience of cosmic consciousness. I thought, well this is by far the most interesting thing you can do as a psychiatrist – working with these non-ordinary states of consciousness.”

He continued to work with LSD in the government labs of Czechoslovakia, probing the depths of the experience with his patients for nearly a decade.

He became one of the most experienced psychedelic researchers in the world, believing, with many of his fellow researchers that psychedelics: “used responsibly and with proper caution, would be for psychiatry what the microscope is for biology and medicine or the telescope is for astronomy.”

It was a huge growth time for psychedelic scientific research, with dramatic results being reported across many different studies, including treatment for addiction, end-of-life anxiety and other famous experiments (http://www.druglibrary.org/Schaffer/lsd/doblin.htm) involving mystical experience.

He left Prague in 1967 for the Maryland Psychiatric Research Centre in the US, shortly before the Russian tanks rolled in to crush the Prague Spring of 1968.

But the backlash against the drugs had already begun by the mid 60s and they were being banned around the world. Grof’s centre in Maryland was the last surviving licensed bastion of psychedelic research until 1971, when their LSD research was finally banned for good.

His main focus was on what he termed ‘non-ordinary states of consciousness’. At the start of psychological research at the turn of the century, these states were studied, but they fell out of fashion. One of the fathers of analytical psychology, William James said: “Our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness. Whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. No account of the universe in its totality can be final that leaves these disregarded.”

Grof was determined to explain them, but it was difficult when there wasn’t even an accepted language within psychotherapy to describe them. The term ‘altered states’ he rejected as it suggested that there was a normal, appropriate state of consciousness and that all others were a diversion from that: “They were seen as pathologies, with no greater use for them”. He settled on ‘non-ordinary states’ and later coined the word ‘holotropic’ to describe them.

These non-ordinary states were not specifically drug-induced, he also talked about states induced by spiritual practice such as deep meditation, fasting, breathing exercises. After LSD was banned, he moved out of academia into the human potential movement at Esalen (http://www.esalen.org/ ) in California. He developed a system called Holotropic Breathwork, (LINK HERE)which created a ‘non-ordinary state’ of consciousness without the use of drugs.

“Holos means whole, and Tropic, moving towards. Moving towards wholeness, or oriented towards wholeness. What that means is that we are not whole the way we are in ordinary consciousness.

The basic idea behind this term is that we only identify with a fraction of who we are in the ordinary state of consciousness. I usually use a kind of Hindu shorthand from the Upanishads, where the question, ‘Who am I’ is answered as ‘Tvat Vam Asi’, or ‘Thou Art That’, you are not name and shape, the body and ego, you have a larger identity which is one with the creative principle, the creative energy of the universe.

Now this is not a philosophical speculation, this is something that can be tested. In non-ordinary states you can have the experience of your boundaries melting and your consciousness expanding so it encompasses much larger units – becoming other people, experiencing group consciousness, identification with archetypal beings, visits to archetypal realms etcetera. You can also have the experience of becoming one with the divine, with the creative principle, the great spirit – whatever the name is from whichever different spiritual traditions.”

Though he looked towards spiritual traditions for useful terms to explain the experience, he is hostile to religion, seeing religions as spiritual traditions that have effectively lost touch with the source of realisation.

“We would not have religions if it was not for these holotropic states. At the start of all religious traditions we have these visionary experiences, of the prophets, saints or the founders of the religion or the early disciples. When it becomes an organised religion that’s a different story, it often loses connection to the spiritual source and becomes about politics and secular things, controlling people, possessions and hierarchies.

There is a major difference between spirituality, which is a direct experience of these normally invisible dimensions of reality – a very private thing, it’s between me and the universe and it’s based on personal experience, and religion. What I’m talking about is spirituality, and that is found primarily in the mystical branches of the religions, or the monastic branches, where people do spiritual practice.”

His belief was also that all great creativity also comes from these holotropic states, where figures such as Mozart or Puccini would say that they found their symphonies already written in their consciousness, and it was then just a case of writing them down. More recently Nobel prize winners Francis Crick, (discoverer of DNA) and Kary Mullis also had their realisations while under the influence of psychedelics.

Through the use of psychedelics and rigorous mapping of the depths of the psyche that he uncovered, he moved further and further away from a Freudian understanding of human behaviour and the psyche.

What came out of his research was the creation of a new field of psychology called the transpersonal. Relying of the work of CJ Jung, he mapped out a much greater concept of a universal, collective unconscious, containing all the mythologies, collected wisdom and experience of all civilisations from the dawn of time. He and the other psychologists he was working with including the celebrated Abraham Maslow believed that this unconscious was shared and accessible to all, especially during these non-ordinary states of consciousness.

“Experiences occurring in psychedelic sessions cannot be described in terms of the narrow and superficial conceptual model used in academic psychiatry and psychology, which is limited to biology, postnatal biography, and the Freudian individual unconscious,” Grof wrote. “Deep experiential work requires a vastly extended cartography of the psyche that includes important domains uncharted by traditional science.”

“The renaissance of interest in Eastern spiritual philosophies, various mystical traditions, meditation, ancient and aboriginal wisdom, as well as the widespread psychedelic experimentation during the stormy 1960s,” Grof later wrote, “made it absolutely clear that a comprehensive and cross-culturally valid psychology had to include observations from such areas as mystical states; cosmic consciousness; psychedelic experiences; trance phenomena; creativity; and religious, artistic, and scientific inspiration.”

In his later life he began to focus on the wider cultural context of his work. He wrote a book called ‘Psychology of the Future’ which looked at what would need to change within our worldview in order to understand and accommodate the experiences he had found. His key argument was that our culture has been blinded by its technical and scientific success into believing that this was all there is, and that the systematic suppression of holotropic states was both a result, and a cause of this.

“There is a tremendous difference between the industrial societies and all the previous cultures. Difference in worldview. Now clearly we know much more about the material world than these cultures ever knew. In terms of technology there is no comparison. In terms of the spiritual dimension, all the ancient and aboriginal cultures, without exception, believed that there are dimensions of reality that are ordinarily invisible. They believe that in some sense that consciousness is superior to matter, that consciousness does not end with death, there is a continuity, a reincarnation.

But for western industrial society this is a material universe, the history of the universe is a history of developing matter. Much of it happened without any participation of consciousness, without any participation of creative intelligence, it happened in a very small infinitesimal part of the universe after billions of years – life originated – and then consciousness originated as a very small, epiphenomenon of the neurophysiological processes of the brain. In that world view there is absolutely no place for spirit. To be spiritual from a purely materialist scientific psychiatric perspective is to be primitive, uneducated, to be gullible, to be into primitive thinking. And when someone has spiritual experiences we give them diagnoses and put them on tranquillisers.

There is a fundamental difference between these groups of people in terms of spirituality – the usual explanation is that they didn’t have science, that we have superior scientific understanding.

The way I would see it after 45 years working in this field is that it has something to do with their relation to these holotropic states. All these previous societies held these states in very high esteem and spent lots of time and energy creating powerful and safe ways of inducing them, and they were regularly practicing them. They would have their regular practices, and then once in a while they would have their ritual where a group of people, or the whole tribe would go into these holotropic states, and they’re so powerful and so convincing that once you have them you have to build them into your worldview – there’s no way you can ignore that kind of experience – it would be like trying to talk me out of the fact that there’s a microphone here.

I see the major difference now as being the naivety of the industrial civilisations in relation to these holotropic states. While the native cultures were all using them and combining in their worldview these two states of mind, we have eliminated the holotropic dimension out of our lives. We discourage these experiences, we have even outlawed the means and the contexts for creating them, and when people have them spontaneously we have created a pathology and we suppress them, so we don’t have information coming from that domain.”

http://www.alternet.org/story/146393/how_stanislav_grof_helped_launch_the_dawn_of_a_new_psychedelic_research_era

good friday experiment: http://www.druglibrary.org/Schaffer/lsd/doblin.htm

Stanislav Grof – Psychology of the Future

Stanislav Grof:

My first idea was that this must be

my consciousness was catapulted out of my body, I lost the clinic, I lost the research assistant, I lost Prague, I lost the planet, then I had the feeling that my consciousness had no boundaries.

I had this incredible experience of cosmic consciousness. I thought, well this is by far the most interesting thing you can do as a psychiatrist – working with these non-ordinary states of consciousness.

Psychology of the future.

My belief is that if we systematically study the kind of observations and experiences in these non-ordinary states that we will radically change psychology and psychiatry – to the point that it would resemble the revolution in the sciences in the third decade, that we would catch up with the change in the world view of the quantum/relativistic physics and the kind of things that have been outlined in what is called the new paradigm.

Unhappy that within psychotherapy there wasn’t even a language that allowed him to discuss properly. The only term for the kind of states of consciousness he was interested in were ‘altered states’ which suggested that there was a normal, appropriate state of consciousness and that all others were a diversion from that. “They were seen as pathologies, with no greater use for them”.

He coined the term ‘Holotropic’.

Holos means whole, and Tropic, moving towards. Moving towards wholeness, or oriented towards wholeness.

What that means is that we are not whole the way we are.

The basic idea behind this term is that we only identify with a fraction of who we are in the orgdinary state of consciousness. I usually use a kind of Hindu shorthand from the Upanishads, where the question, ‘Who am I’ is answered as ‘Tvat Van Asi’, or ‘Thou Art That’, you are not name and shape, the body and ego, you have a larger identity which is one with the creative principle, the creative energy of the universe.

Now this is not a philosophical speculation, this is something that can be tested. In non-ordinatry states you can have the experience of your boundaries melting and your consciousness expanding so it encompasses much larger units – becoming other people, experiencing group consciousness, identification with archetypal beings, visits to archetypal realms etcetera. You can also have the experience of becoming one with the divine, with the creative principle, the great spirit – whatever the name is from whichever different spiritual traditions.

There is a healing that seems to happen in this space of melting the boundaries.

You have a larger identity which is that of the creative

If we want to tap into deep creativity, we need these holotropic states. Mozart said that whole symphonies appeared in his head in a finished form. Ideas for nobel prize winning

Scientific inspiration,

“Higher Creativity”

Sense of incredible well-being, energy,

We would not have religions if it was not for these holotropic states. At the start of all religious traditions we have these visionary experiences, of the prophets, saints or the founders of the religion or the early disciples. When it becomes an organised religion that’s a different story, it often loses connection to the spiritual source and becomes about politics and secular things, controlling people, possessions and heirarchies.

There is a major difference between spirituality, which is a direct experience of these normally invisible dimensions of reality – a very private thing, it’s between me and the universe and it’s based on personal experience, and religion. What I’m talking about is spirituality, and that is found primarily in the mystical branches of the religions, or the monastic branches, where people do spiritual practice.

There is a tremendous difference between the industrial societies and all the previous cultures. Difference in worldview. Now clearly we know much more about the material world than these cultures ever knew. In terms of technology there is no comparison. In terms of the spiritual dimension, all the ancient and aboriginal cultures, without exception, believed that there are dimensions of reality that are ordinarily invisible. They believe that in some sense that consciousness is superior to matter, that consciousness does not end with death, there is a continuity, a reincarnation. But for western industrial society this is a material universe, the history of the universe is a history of developing matter. Much of it happened without any participation of consciousness, without any participation of creative intelligence, it happened in a very small infinitesimal part of the universe after billions of years – life originated – and then consciousness originated as a very small, epiphenomenon of the neurophysiological processes of the brain. In that world view there is absolutely no place for spirit. To be spiritual from a purely materialist scientific psychiatric perspective is to be primitive, uneducated, to be gullible, to be into primitive thinking. And when someone has spiritual experiences we give them diagnoses and put them on tranquillisers. There is a fundamental difference between these groups of people in terms of spirituality – the usual explanation is that they didn’t have science, that we have superior scientific understanding. The way I would see it after 45 years working in this field is that it has something to do with their relation to these holotropic states. All these previous societies held these states in very high esteem and spent lots of time and energy creating powerful and safe ways of inducing them, and they were regularly practicing them. They would have their regular practices, and then once in a while they would have their ritual where a group of people, or the whole tribe would go into these holotropic states, and they’re so powerful and so convincing that once you have them you have to build them into your worldview – there’s no way you can ignore that kind of experience – it would be like trying to talk me out of the fact that there’s a microphone here. I see the major difference now as being the naivety of the industrial civilisations in relation to these holotropic states. While the native cultures were all using them and combining in their worldview these two states of mind, we have eliminated the holotropic dimension out of our lives. We discourage these expweriences, we have even outlawed the means and the contexts for creating them, and when people have them spontaneously we have created a pathology and we suppress them, so we don’t have information coming from that domain.

Which areas we will have to change our belief system to accomodate these experiences…

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