Sandison – Grof – Ling and LSD

Many of us are quite well informed about the results of research in sleep laboratories. Most of us know what rapid-eye-movement sleep refers to. However, long before Kleitman and Aserinsky’s discover of REM sleep in 1953 and 1957, another huge area of research pertaining to dreams was being undertaken. This began in April of 1943 when the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann discovered LSD. Because of LSD’s power to change states of consciousness it was quickly experimented with in psychiatry. One of the opportunities it offered was to observe unusual states of mind in an experimental way. This enabled psychiatrists and psychologists to observe areas of mental and emotional functioning they had previously only theorised about. Some of the main people involved were Sandison, Grof, Ling and Buckman.[i] Out of their work an enormously expanded understanding of dreams, of fantasy, of levels of mental process and the unconscious came about. Unfortunately the evidence of their observations is usually ignored by sleep laboratory research.

Although the findings from this source do not answer all the questions about the brain and human personality, something relevant to dreams is  defined. It was seen from the research that there are at least two ways of ‘thinking’. One way is to think with words and rational connection between associated ideas. This is the usual waking form of thought. Underlying this is thinking in images and linked similarities – what Tauber and Green called ‘pre-logical thinking’.[ii] This may be the way our ancient ancestors thought – not in words but in streaming fantasy or pictures that linked with feelings and past experience. It is exactly this world of linked imagery, associations and emotions we enter in dreams. A problem that exists for us if we want to understand our dreams and extract the gold nuggets from them is that we usually attempt to understand this world of ‘pre-logical’ experience with our ‘logical’ thinking. We ‘think’ about our dream and attempt to interpret it according to our rules of logical thought. This is like trying to understand what it would be like to bathe in water by thinking about it when you had never before been in water. Thinking will not come up with the answer.

Because of this McKenzie says that ‘Under the influence of LSD a person can often interpret imagery – of a dream – that would seem meaningless in a state of normal consciousness.’[iii] In fact many people experienced spontaneous insight into their dreams while working with LSD. The insight was not simply a sort of intellectual knowing, but an ability to experience the intricate connections of past experience, feelings and imagery out of which a dream is woven.

One of the reasons this can occur is that LSD stimulates pre-logical thinking while at the same time allowing rational observation of what is experienced. Like Miss Z, the volunteers making the experiment could ‘go to sleep’ by entering the fantasy and pre-logical processes of dreaming, and yet stay awake by maintaining a questioning mind. Therefore the theories of Freud and the other great names could be checked against what people actually met in exploring their unconscious consciously. Dr. Betty Grover Eisner, an American specialist in hallucinogenics, said of this:

“In the course of five years’ work with the psycholytic or mind-changing drugs LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, ritalin, and the amphetamines-one can only be awe-struck by the genius of Freud, Adler, and Jung, and be saddened by the forces which split apart this trinity. Their observations and theories should be integrated; for the split skewed so many fundamental conceptions and discoveries.”

W. V. Caldwell echoes this: If the psychedelic experience had confirmed the theories of Freud, or Jung, or anybody else we might have been relieved. Instead it has confirmed them all and added a few more besides.”[iv] Caldwell is referring to the realisation that we all have a many storied brain/mind. Although the brain itself is composed of at least three levels, starting with the ancient brain stem, the medulla, similar to an ancient lizard brain, most of us are only aware of one level of our experience. This is waking consciousness. Caldwell, synthesising thousands of psychotherapeutic LSD sessions in clinics around the world, gives a geography of these levels, listing them as four.

  • Body centred awareness that is deeply sensual. It is a level we all experience during infancy.
  • The gestural. This emerges as we learn to express our feelings and needs through physical movement in infancy. Thus we may express our deepest hidden feelings in an unconscious body posture or movement. At this level suppressed emotions express as psychosomatic pain or tension.
  • The symbolic-mythic. This is a level seen in many older cultures where truths are expressed in the forms of myths and stories. At this level we express our intuitions and needs through symbolic action, as when, feeling trapped we fight authority figures instead of having direct insight into our problem. We may act out what we feel, or what our life situation is, in a drama or play.
  • The verbal-analytic. Here we gain direct insight into situations and can also verbalise them. At this level we can define the symbol or myth.[v]

As an adult we may in fact be living with a powerful body posture that we blame on tension, when in fact it is an expression of deeply felt experience. If we are unconscious of it we are living only in our top-story flat – the reasoning mind. What we can learn from this is that dreams often express these various levels of our mind in the drama or objects of our dreams. Recognising them is a big step in becoming aware of how to understand the language of our dreams and to become whole. Consider some of these dream statements in connection with symbolic action for instance:

She is standing on a ledge ready to jump – I am standing with my husband – I reached out – I ran away – I hid in a closet – I could barely walk – He was walking along with his eyes closed – I was cold – I buried the body – I realised I hadn’t fed the baby I was caring for – I was walking on ice.

[i] See: H. A. Sandison, A. M. Spencer, J. D. A. Whitelaw. ‘The Therapeutic Value of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide in Mental Illness. Grof, Stanislav. Realms of the Human Unconscious. Ling and Buckman. The use of LSD and Ritalin in the Treatment of Neuroses.

[ii] See Prelogical Experience by E. S. Tauber and Maurice S. R. Green.

[iii] From Dreams And Dreaming by Norman MacKenzie. Bloomsbury Books 1989.

[iv] LSD Psychotherapy by W. V. Caldwell. Published by Grove Press Inc. 1968

[v] This listing is actually evolved from work done by Van Rhijn. Rhijn defined these levels.

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