Grof’s Influence

Tony: What has happened in the West in recent years is, as far as I can see a sort of outcrop of this Christian view of transformation, and is seen in the development of psychotherapy in its various forms. This has become a very powerful influence in society toward the transformation of self. And I believe this is an amazing step forward. Although many psychotherapists will not agree with me, I believe that in the broadest sense psychotherapy is a tremendous tool and advancement in the process of spiritual growth.

I say this because as far as I can see, nowhere in the past was there a real meeting with the effects of life in the womb, the trauma of birth, childhood traumas, and the sexual dilemmas and pains many of us suffer. Today when we take the spiritual path, the meeting with these blockages and infant traumas is part of the cleansing mentioned already. The best of the psychotherapies looks at the whole of the human being and includes body mind and spirit in its approach to transformation.

What I have seen is that if you press far enough into the deep renovation of yourself you cannot help but confront a widening of awareness. That, after all, in the essence of the spiritual.

Chris: You used to talk about Grof a lot. How do you connect his work with what you have said?

Tony: Yes. This was because I see Grof as a leader in the field of modern psychotherapy. He encompassed an enormously wide view of the human being. He moved beyond the limitations of Freud and Jung, and gave a much more detailed and extensive map of the human being than we had previously. Of course he was not alone in this. During the period of his major work he was accompanied by other giants in the field of exploring the human psyche. (See the work of Dr. Frank Lake, Otto Rank, Wilhelm Reich, Medard Boss).

Something that links with what I said in regard to the spiritual path and the addition that psychotherapy has made to it is that very often in the past the meeting with oneself often remained in symbols. Or to put it another way, the traveller on that path never got beyond the symbols of what he or she was meeting.

To give what is perhaps not a very precise example; the person might have a powerful vision or experience of being in a frightening cave, or of meeting the devil, or an animal; perhaps even an angel. What people like Grof did was to break through the symbol into the reality underlying it. For instance Grof clearly defined the various stages of the birth trauma often represented by the symbol of a cave, or being tortured or threatened by a devil.

An interesting insight into what the avoidance of going beyond the symbol might lead to has been given by Ralph Frenken Ph.D. in his review of Christian mystics. He believes that, “The psychodynamics of mystics, their symbol formations and their actions are based on excessive early trauma. . . . There is evidence that medieval mystics were deprived and also emotionally and sexually abused as children.”

There is still a great tendency to remain in the symbol with many people on the spiritual path today. However, when we do frequently have the courage to break through the symbol and meet the reality of our own experience, the reality of who we actually are. We are readier to confront our real history and experience how it shaped and wounded us. So I see the path toward growth and change is enormously enhanced. I believe this adds great power to social change as well as individual change.

Another aspect of Grof’s contribution was that his early work involved the use of LSD as an aid to psychotherapy. From his observations of thousands of patients he arrived, after much questioning, to the realisation that human consciousness can transcend all the boundaries we usually believe limit it. He sums this up by saying, “There is at present little doubt in my mind that our current understanding of the universe, of the nature of reality, and particularly of human beings, is superficial, incorrect, and incomplete.”

To quote one example from which this conclusion was reached I quote from Michael Talbot’s book Holographic Universe:

Beyond the Limitations of the Body

In one particularly unnerving session a young man suffering from depression found himself in what seemed to be another dimension. It had an eerie luminescence, and although he could not see anyone he sensed that it was crowded with discarnate beings. Suddenly he sensed a presence very close to him, and to his surprise it began to communicate with him telepathically. It asked him to please contact a couple who lived in the Moravian city of Kromeriz and let them know that their son Ladislav was well taken care of and doing all right. It then gave him the couple’s name, street address, and telephone number.
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The information meant nothing to either Grof or the young man and seemed totally unrelated to the young man’s problems and treatment. Still, Grof could not put it out of his mind. “After some hesitation and with mixed feelings, I finally decided to do what certainly would have made me the target of my colleagues’ jokes, had they found out,” says Grof. “I went to the telephone, dialled the number in Kromeriz, and asked if I could speak with Ladislav. To my astonishment, the woman on the other side of the line started to cry. When she calmed down, she told me with a broken voice: ‘Our son is not with us any more; he passed away, we lost him three weeks ago.’”

Grof also gives examples of people remembering events that occurred to their parents or grandparents long before they were born and of which they previously knew nothing. Some memories seem to come from periods far in the past, and the patients were able to describe in detail events and environment they were remembering.

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