11. Journeys Beyond Space and Time
In the systems view of health, every illness is in essence a mental phenomenon, and in many cases the process of getting sick is reversed most effectively through an approach that integrates both physical and psychological therapies. The conceptual framework underlying such an approach will include not only the new systems biology but also a new systems psychology, a science of human experience and behavior that perceives the human organism as a dynamic system involving interdependent physiological and psychological patterns, and as being embedded in interacting larger systems of physical, social, and cultural dimensions.
Carl Gustav Jung was perhaps the first to extend classical psychology into these new realms. In breaking with Freud he abandoned the Newtonian models of psychoanalysis and developed a number of concepts that are quite consistent with those of modern physics and with systems theory. Jung, who was in close contact with several of the leading physicists of his time, was well aware of these similarities. In one of his major works, Aion, we find the following prophetic passage:
Indeed, it seems that Jung's approach was very much on the right lines and, in fact, many of the differences between Freud and Jung parallel those between classical and modern physics, between the mechanistic and the holistic paradigm2
Freud's theory of the mind was based on the concept of the human organism as a complex biological machine. Psychological processes were deeply rooted in the body's physiology and biochemistry and followed the principles of Newtonian mechanics.3 Mental life in health and illness reflected the interplay of instinctual forces within the organism and their clashes with the external world. While Freud's views about the detailed dynamics of these phenomena changed over time, he never abandoned the basic Cartesian orientation of his theory. Jung, by contrast, was not so much interested in explaining psychological phenomena in terms of specific mechanisms, but rather attempted to understand the psyche in its totality and was particularly concerned with its relations to the wider environment.
Jung's ideas about the dynamics of mental phenomena came quite close to the systems view. He saw the psyche as a self-regulating dynamic system, characterized by fluctuations between opposite poles. To describe its dynamics he used the Freudian term "libido" but gave it a very different meaning. Whereas Freud saw the libido as an instinctual drive that was closely connected with sexuality and had properties similar to those of a force in Newtonian mechanics, Jung conceived it as a general 'psychic energy' which he saw as a manifestation of the basic dynamics of life. Jung was quite aware that he was using the term 'libido' much in the sense in which Reich used 'bioenergy'; Jung, however, concentrated exclusively on the psychological aspects of the phenomenon:
As in the case of Reich, it is unfortunate that the language of modern systems theory was not available to Jung. Instead, as Freud had done before him, he used the framework of classical physics, which is much less appropriate to describe the functioning of living organisms.5 Consequently Jung's theory of psychic energy is at times somewhat confusing. Nevertheless, it is relevant to current developments in psychology and psychotherapy and would be even more influential if it were reformulated in modern systems language.
The key difference between the psychologies of Freud and Jung is in their views of the unconscious. For Freud, the unconscious was predominantly personal in nature, containing elements that had never been conscious and others that had been forgotten or repressed. Jung acknowledged those aspects, but he believed that the unconscious was much more. He saw it as the very source of consciousness and held that we begin our lives with our unconscious, not with a tabula rasa as Freud believed. The conscious mind, according to Jung, "grows out of an unconscious psyche which is older than it, and which goes on functioning together with it or even in spite of it." 6 Accordingly, Jung distinguished two realms of the unconscious psyche: a personal unconscious belonging to the individual, and a collective unconscious that represents a deeper stratum of the psyche and is common to all humankind.
Jung's concept of the collective unconscious distinguishes his psychology not only from Freud's but from all others. It implies a link between the individual and humanity as a whole - in fact, in some sense, between the individual and the entire cosmos - that cannot be understood within a mechanistic framework but is very consistent with the systems view of mind. In his attempts to describe the collective unconscious, Jung also used concepts that are surprisingly similar to the ones contemporary physicists use in their descriptions of subatomic phenomena. He saw the unconscious as a process involving 'collectively present dynamic patterns,' which he called archetypes.7 These patterns, formed by the remote experiences of humanity, are reflected in dreams, as well as in the universal motifs found in myths and fairy tales around the world. Archetypes, according to Jung, are 'forms without content, representing merely the possibility of a certain type of perception and action.' 8 Although they are relatively distinct, these universal forms are embedded in a web of relationships, in which each archetype, ultimately, involves all the others.
Both Freud and Jung had a deep interest in religion and spirituality, but whereas Freud seemed to be obsessed with the need to find rational and scientific explanations for religious beliefs and behavior, Jung's approach was much more direct. His many personal religious experiences convinced him of the reality of the spiritual dimension in life. Jung considered comparative religion and mythology unique sources of information about the collective unconscious, and saw genuine spirituality as an integral part of the human psyche.
Jung's spiritual orientation gave him a broad perspective on science and rational knowledge. He saw the rational approach as merely one of several approaches, which all resulted in different but equally valid descriptions of reality. In his theory of psychological types, Jung identified four characteristic functions of the psyche - sensation, thinking, feeling, and intuition - that are manifest to different degrees in different individuals. Scientists operate predominantly from the thinking function, but Jung was well aware that his own explorations of the human psyche sometimes made it necessary to go beyond rational understanding. For example, he emphasized repeatedly that the collective unconscious and its patterns, the archetypes, defied precise definition.
In transcending the rational framework of psychoanalysis, Jung also expanded Freud's deterministic approach to mental phenomena by postulating that psychological patterns were connected not only causally but also acausally. In particular, he introduced the term 'synchronicity' for acausal connections between symbolic images in the inner, psychic world and events in the external reality.9 Jung saw these synchronistic connections as specific examples of a more general 'acausal orderedness' in mind and matter. Today, thirty years later, this view seems to be supported by several developments in physics. The notion of order - or, more precisely, of ordered connectedness - has recently emerged as a central concept in particle physics, and physicists are now also making a distinction between causal (or local') and acausal (or 'nonlocal') connections.10 At the same time patterns of matter and patterns of mind are increasingly recognized as reflections of one another, which suggests that the study of order, in causal as well as acausal connectedness, may be an effective way of exploring the relationship between the inner and outer realms.
Jung's ideas about the human psyche led him to a notion of mental illness that has been very influential among psycho-therapists in recent years. He saw the mind as a self-regulating or, as we would say today, self-organizing system, and neurosis as a process by which this system tries to overcome various obstructions that prevent it from functioning as an integrated whole. The role of the therapist, in Jung's view, is to support this process, which he saw as being part of a psychological journey along a path of personal development or 'individuation.' The process of individuation, according to Jung, consists of integrating the conscious and unconscious aspects of our psyche, which will involve encounters with the archetypes of the collective unconscious and will result, ideally, in the experience of a new center of personality, which Jung called the Self.
Jung's views of the therapeutic process reflected his ideas about mental illness. He believed that psychotherapy should flow from a personal encounter between therapist and patient that involves the entire being of both: 'By no device can the treatment be anything but the product of mutual influence, in which the whole being of the doctor as well as that of his patient plays its part.'11 This process involves an interaction between the unconscious of the therapist and that of the patient, and Jung advised therapists to communicate with their own unconscious when dealing with patients:
Because of his seemingly esoteric ideas, his emphasis on spirituality, and his attraction to mysticism, Jung has not been taken very seriously in psychoanalytic circles. With the recognition of an increasing consistency between Jungian psychology and modern science, this attitude is bound to change, and Jung's ideas about the human unconscious, the dynamics of psychological phenomena, the nature of mental illness, and the process of psychotherapy are likely to have a strong influence on psychology and psychotherapy in the future.
Around the middle of the twentieth century, many ideas that are important to current developments in psychology began to emerge in the United States. During the 1930s and 1940s there were two distinct and antagonistic schools of American psychology. Behaviorism was the most popular model in the academic field, and psychoanalysis served as the basis of most psychotherapy. During World War II the discipline of clinical psychology emerged as a major professional field, but it was generally limited to psychological testing, and clinical skills were regarded as ancillary to basic scientific training, as engineering skills and those of other applied sciences were.13 Then, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, clinical psychologists developed theoretical models of the human psyche and of human behavior that differed markedly from both the Freudian and behaviorist models, and psycho-therapies that differed from psychoanalysis.
One of the most vital and enthusiastic movements that arose from dissatisfaction with the mechanistic orientation of psychological thought is the school of humanistic psychology spearheaded by Abraham Maslow. Maslow rejected Freud's view of humanity as being dominated by lower instincts and criticized Freud for deriving his theories of human behavior from the study of neurotic and psychotic individuals. Maslow thought that conclusions based on observing the worst in human beings rather than the best were bound to result in a distorted view of human nature. 'Freud supplied to us the sick half of psychology,' he wrote, 'and we must now fill it out with the healthy half. ' 14 Maslow's criticism of behavior-ism was equally vehement. He refused to see human beings simply as complex animals responding blindly to environmental stimuli, and pointed out the problematic nature and limited value of the behaviorists' heavy reliance on animal experiments. He acknowledged the usefulness of the behaviorist approach in learning about the characteristics we share with animals, but he strongly believed that such an approach was useless when it came to understanding capacities like conscious, guilt, idealism, humor, and so on, which are specifically human.
To counteract the mechanistic tendency of behaviorism and the medical orientation of psychoanalysis, Maslow proposed as a 'third force' a humanistic approach to psychology. Rather than studying the behavior of rats, pigeons, or monkeys humanistic psychologists focused on human experience and asserted that feelings, desires, and hopes were as important in a comprehensive theory of human behavior as external influences. Maslow emphasized that human beings should be studied as integral organisms and concentrated specifically on healthy individuals and positive aspects of human behavior - happiness, satisfaction, fun, peace of mind, joy, ecstasy. Like Jung, Maslow was deeply concerned with personal growth and 'self-actualization,' as he called it. In particular he undertook a comprehensive study of subjects who had spontaneous transcendental or 'peak' experiences, which he considered important stages in the process of self-actualization. A similar approach to human growth was advocated by the Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli, who was one of the pioneers of psychoanalysis in Italy but later went beyond the Freudian model and developed an alternative framework that he called psychosynthesis. 15
In psychotherapy the humanistic orientation encouraged therapists to move away from the biomedical model, and this was reflected in a subtle but significant shift of terminology. Instead of dealing with 'patients' therapists were now dealing with 'clients,' and the interaction between therapist and client, rather than being dominated and manipulated by the therapist, was seen as a human encounter between equals. The main innovator in this development was Carl Rogers, who emphasized the importance of a positive regard for the client and developed a nondirective, 'client-centered' psychotherapy.16 The essence of the humanistic approach is to see the client as a person capable of growth and self-actualization and to recognize the potentials inherent in all human beings.
Believing that most men and women in our culture had become too intellectual and were alienated from their sensations and feelings, psychotherapists focused on experience rather than intellectual analysis, and developed various nonverbal and physical techniques. A number of these techniques sprang up during the 1960s - sensory awareness, encounter, sensitivity training, and many more. They proliferated particularly in California, where Esalen, on the Big Sur coast, became an extremely influential center of the new psychotherapies and bodywork schools, which were referred to collectively as the human potential movement. 17
While humanistic psychologists criticized Freud's view of human nature as based too much on the study of sick individuals, another group of psychologists and psychiatrists saw the lack of social considerations as the major shortcoming of psychoanalysis.18 They pointed out that Freud's theory provided no conceptual framework for experiences shared by human beings and that it could not deal with interpersonal relations or with broader social dynamics. To extend psycho-analysis into these new dimensions Harry Stack Sullivan emphasized interpersonal relations in psychiatric theory and practice. He maintained that the human personality cannot be separated from the network of human relations in which it exists, and he defined psychiatry explicitly as a discipline dedicated to the study of interpersonal relations and interactions. Another social school of psychoanalysis developed under the leadership of Karen Homey, who emphasized the importance of cultural factors in the development of neurosis. She criticized Freud for not taking into account the social and cultural determinants of mental illness and also pointed out the lack of cultural perspective in his ideas about female psychology.
These new social orientations brought new therapeutic approaches that focused on the family and on other social groups and used the dynamics in these groups to initiate and support the therapeutic process. Family therapy is based on the assumption that the mental disorders of the 'identified patient' reflect an illness of the entire family system and should therefore be treated within the context of the family. The movement of family therapy began in the 1950s and represents today one of the most innovative and successful therapeutic approaches. It has incorporated explicitly some of the new systems concepts of health and illness.19
Group therapy had been practiced in various forms for many decades but had been limited to verbal interactions until humanistic psychologists applied their new techniques of nonverbal communication, emotional release, and physical expression to the group process. Rogers had a strong influence on the development of this new kind of group therapy by applying his client-centered approach to it, establishing the relationship between therapist and client as a basis for relationships within the group. 20 The purpose of these groups, usually referred to as 'encounter groups,' was not limited to therapy. Many encounter groups met for the explicit purposes of self-exploration and personal growth.
By the mid-1960s it was commonly understood that the central emphasis of humanistic psychology, in theory and practice, was on self-actualization. During the subsequent rapid development of the discipline it became increasingly obvious that a new movement was developing within the humanistic orientation that was specifically concerned with the spiritual, transcendental, or mystical aspects of self-actualization. After several conceptual discussions the leaders of this movement gave it the name transpersonal psychology, a term coined by Abraham Maslow and Slanislav Grof.21
Transpersonal psychology is concerned, directly or indirectly, with the recognition, understanding, and realization of nonordinary, mystical, or 'transpersonal' states of consciousness, and with the psychological conditions that represent barriers to such transpersonal realizations. Its concerns are thus very close to those of spiritual traditions, and, indeed, a number of transpersonal psychologists are working on conceptual systems intended to bridge and integrate psychology and the spiritual quest. 22 They have placed themselves in a position that differs radically from that of most major schools of Western psychology, which have tended to regard any form of religion or spirituality as based on primitive superstition, pathological aberration, or shared delusions about reality inculcated by the family system and the culture. The notable exception, of course, was Jung, who acknowledged spirituality as an integral aspect of human nature and a vital force in human life.
From these psychological schools and movements developing in both the United States and Europe a new psychology is emerging that is consistent with the systems view of life and in harmony with the views of spiritual traditions. The new psychology is still far from being a complete theory, being developed so far in the form of loosely connected models, ideas, and therapeutic techniques. These developments are taking place largely outside our academic institutions, most of which remain too closely tied to the Cartesian paradigm to appreciate the new ideas.
As in all other disciplines, the systems approach of the new psychology has a holistic and dynamic perspective. The holistic view, which is often associated in psychology with the gestalt principle, maintains that the properties and functions of the psyche cannot be comprehended by reducing them to isolated elements, just as the physical organism cannot be fully understood by analyzing it in terms of its parts. The fragmented view of reality not only is an obstacle for understanding the mind, but also is a characteristic aspect of mental illness. The healthy experience of oneself is an experience of the entire organism, body and mind, and mental illnesses often arise from failure to integrate the various components of this organism. From this point of view the Cartesian split between mind and body and the conceptual separation of individuals from their environment appear to be symptoms of a collective mental illness shared by most of Western culture, as they are indeed often perceived by other cultures.
The new psychology sees the human organism as an integrated whole involving interdependent physical and psychological patterns. Although psychologists and psychotherapists deal predominantly with mental phenomena, they must insist that these can be understood only within the context of the whole mind/body system. Hence the conceptual basis of psychology must also be consistent with that of biology. In classical science the Cartesian framework made it difficult for psychologists and biologists to communicate, and it seemed they could not learn much from each other. There were similar barriers between psychotherapists and physicians. But the systems approach provides a common framework for understanding the biological and psychological manifestations of human organisms in health and illness, one that is likely to lead to mutually stimulating exchanges between biologists and psychologists. It also means that if this is the time for physicians to take a closer look at the psychological aspects of illness, it is also time for psychotherapists to increase their knowledge of human biology.
As in the new systems biology, the focus of psychology is now shifting from psychological structures to the underlying processes. The human psyche is seen as a dynamic system involving a variety of functions that systems theorists associate with the phenomenon of self-organization. Following Jung and Reich, many psychologists and psychotherapists have come to think of mental dynamics in terms of a flow of energy, and they also believe that these dynamics reflect an intrinsic intelligence - the equivalent of the systems concept of mentation - that enables the psyche not only to create mental illness but also to heal itself. Moreover, inner growth and self-actualization are seen as essential to the dynamics of the human psyche, in full agreement with the emphasis on self-transcendence in the systems view of life.
Another important aspect of the new psychology is the growing recognition that the psychological situation of an individual cannot be separated from the emotional, social, and cultural environment. Psychotherapists are becoming aware that mental distress often originates in the breakdown of social relations. Accordingly, there has been a gradual tendency to shift from individual therapies to group and family therapies. A special kind of group therapy, which was not developed by psychotherapists but grew out of the women's movement, is practiced in political consciousness-raising groups. 23 The purpose of these groups is to integrate the personal and the political by clarifying the political context of personal experiences. The therapeutic process in such groups is often initiated simply by making the participants aware that they share the same problems because these problems are generated by the society we live in.
One of the most exciting developments in contemporary psychology is an adaptation of the bootstrap approach to the understanding of the human psyche. 24 In the past, schools of psychology proposed personality theories and systems of therapy that differed radically in their views of how the human mind functions in health and illness. These schools typically limited themselves to a narrow range of psychological phenomena - sexuality, the birth trauma, existential problems, family dynamics, and so on. A number of psychologists are now pointing out that none of these approaches is wrong, but that each of them focuses on some part of a whole spectrum of consciousness and then attempts to generalize its understanding of that part to the entire psyche. According to the bootstrap approach, there may not be any one theory capable of explaining the entire spectrum of psychological phenomena. Like physicists, psychologists may have to be content with a network of interlocking models, using different languages to describe different aspects and levels of reality. As we use different maps when we travel to different parts of the world, we would use different conceptual models on our journeys beyond space and time, through the inner world of the psyche.
One of the most comprehensive systems to integrate different psychological schools is the spectrum psychology proposed by Ken Wilber.25 It unifies numerous approaches, both Western and Eastern, into a spectrum of psychological models and theories that reflects the spectrum of human consciousness. Each of the levels, or bands, of this spectrum is characterized by a different sense of identity, ranging from the supreme identity of cosmic consciousness to the drastically narrowed identity of the ego. As in any spectrum, the various bands exhibit infinite shades and gradations, merging gradually into one another. Nevertheless, several major levels of consciousness can be perceived. Wilber distinguishes, basically, four levels which are associated with corresponding levels of psychotherapy: the ego level, the biosocial level, the existential level, and the transpersonal level.
At the ego level one does not identify with the total organism, but only with some mental representation of the organism, known as the self-image or ego. This disembodied self is thought to exist within the body, and thus people would say, 1 have a body,' rather than 1 am a body.' Under certain circumstances such a fragmented experience of oneself may be further distorted by the alienation of certain facets of the ego, which may be repressed or projected onto other people or the environment. The dynamics of these phenomena are described in great detail in Freudian psychology.
Wilber calls the second major level of consciousness 'biosocial' because it represents aspects of a person's social environment - family relationships, cultural traditions and beliefs - that are mapped onto the biological organism and profoundly affect the person's perceptions and behavior. The pervasive influence of social and cultural patterns on the individual's sense of identity has been studied extensively by socially oriented psychologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists.
The existential level is the level of the total organism, characterized by a sense of identity which involves an awareness of the entire mind/body system as an integrated, self-organizing whole. The study of this kind of self-awareness and the exploration of its full potential is the aim of humanistic psychology and of various existential psychologies. At the existential level the dualism between mind and body has been overcome, but two other dualisms remain: the dualism of subject versus object, or self versus other; and that of life versus death. The questions and problems arising from these dualisms are a major concern of existential psychologies but cannot be resolved at the existential level. Their resolution requires a state of mind in which individual existential problems are perceived in their cosmic context. Such an awareness emerges at the transpersonal level of consciousness.
Transpersonal experiences involve an expansion of consciousness beyond the conventional boundaries of the organism and, correspondingly, a larger sense of identity. They may also involve perceptions of the environment transcending the usual limitations of sensory perception. 26 The transpersonal level is the level of the collective unconscious and the phenomena associated with it, as described in Jungian psychology. It is a mode of consciousness in which the individual feels connected to the cosmos as a whole, and so may be identified with the traditional concept of the human spirit. This mode of consciousness often transcends logical reasoning and intellectual analysis, approaching the direct mystical experience of reality. The language of mythology, which is much less restricted by logic and common sense, is often more appropriate to describe transpersonal phenomena than factual language. As the Indian scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy wrote, "Myth embodies the nearest approach to absolute truth that can be stated in words. " 27
At the end of the spectrum of consciousness, the transpersonal bands merge into the level of Mind, as Wilber calls it. This is the level of cosmic consciousness at which one identifies with the entire universe. One may perceive the ultimate reality at all transpersonal levels, but one becomes this reality only at the level of Mind. Conscious awareness, at this level, corresponds to the true mystical state, in which all boundaries and dualisms have been transcended and all individuality dissolves into universal, undifferentiated oneness. The level of Mind has been the overriding concern of spiritual or mystical traditions in the East as in the West. Although many of these traditions have been well aware of the other levels and have often mapped them out in great detail, they have always emphasized that the identities associated with all levels of consciousness are illusory, except for the ultimate level of Mind, where one finds one's supreme identity.
Another map of consciousness, which is fully consistent with Wilber's spectrum psychology, has been developed through a very different approach by Stanislav Grof. Whereas Wilber approached the study of consciousness as a psychologist and philosopher, and derived his insights partly from his meditative practice, Grof approached it as a psychiatrist, basing his models on many years of clinical experience. For seventeen years Grofs clinical research was concerned with psychotherapy, using LSD and other psychedelic substances. During this time he conducted some three thousand psychedelic sessions and studied the records from almost two thousand sessions run by his colleagues in Europe and the United States. 28 Later on the public controversy surrounding LSD and the resulting legal restrictions led Grof to abandon his practice of psychedelic therapy and to develop therapeutic techniques that induce similar states without the use of drugs.
Grofs extensive observations of psychedelic experiences convinced him that LSD is a nonspecific catalyst or amplifier of mental processes, which brings to the surface various elements from the depth of the unconscious. A person who takes LSD does not experience a toxic psychosis, as many psychiatrists believed in the early days of LSD research, but rather goes on a journey into the normally unconscious realms of the psyche. Psychedelic research, then, according to Grof, is not the study of special effects induced by psycho-active substances, but the study of the human mind with the help of powerful chemical facilitators. It does not seem inappropriate and exaggerated,' he writes, 'to compare their potential significance for psychiatry and psychology to that of the microscope for medicine or the telescope for astronomy.' 29
The view that psychedelics merely act as amplifiers of mental processes is supported by the fact that the phenomena observed in LSD therapy are in no way unique and limited lo psychedelic experimentation. Many of them have been observed in meditative practice, in hypnosis, and in the new experiential therapies. On the basis of many years of careful observations of this kind, with and without the use of psychedelics, Grof has constructed what he calls a cartography of the unconscious, a map of mental phenomena, which shows great similarities to Wilber's spectrum of consciousness. Grofs cartography encompasses three major domains: the domain of psychodynamic experiences, associated with events in a person's past and present life; the domain of perinatal*(*'Perinatal,' from the Greek pen ('round about') and Latin natus ('birth'), is a medical term referring to phenomena surrounding the birth process.) experiences, related to the biological phenomena involved in the process of birth; and the domain of transpersonal experiences that go beyond individual boundaries.
The psychodynamic level is clearly autobiographical and individual in origin, involving memories of emotionally relevant events and unresolved conflicts from various periods of the individual's life history. Psychodynamic experiences include the psychosexual dynamics and conflicts described by Freud and can be understood, to a large extent, in terms of basic psychoanalytic principles. But, Grof has added an interesting concept to the Freudian framework. According to his observations, experiences in this domain tend to occur in specific memory constellations, which he calls COEX systems (systems of condensed experience.)30 A COEX system is composed of memories from different, periods of the person's life that have a similar basic theme, or contain similar elements, and are accompanied by a strong emotional charge of the same quality. The detailed interrelations among the constituent elements of a COEX system are, in most instances, in basic agreement with Freudian thinking.
The domain of perinatal experiences may be the most fascinating and most original part of Grofs cartography. It exhibits a variety of rich and complex experiential patterns related to the problems of biological birth. Perinatal experiences involve an extremely realistic and authentic reliving of various stages of one's actual birth process - the serene bliss of existence in the womb, in primal union with the mother, as well as disturbances of this peaceful state by toxic chemicals and muscular contractions; the 'no exit' situation of the first stage of delivery, when the cervix is still closed while uterine contractions encroach on the fetus, creating a claustrophobic situation accompanied by intense physical discomfort; the propulsion through the birth canal, involving an enormous struggle for survival under crushing pressures, often with a high degree of suffocation; and, finally, the sudden relief and relaxation, the first breath, and the cutting of the umbilical cord, completing the physical separation from the mother.
In perinatal experiences the sensations and feelings associated with the birth process may be relived in a direct, realistic way and may also emerge in the form of symbolic, visionary experiences. For example, the experience of enormous tensions that is characteristic of the struggle in the birth canal is often accompanied by visions of titanic fights, natural disasters, sado-masochistic sequences, and various images of destruction and self-destruction. To facilitate an understanding of the great complexity of physical symptoms, imagery, and experiential patterns, Grof has grouped them into four clusters, called perinatal matrices, which correspond to consecutive stages of the birth process.31 Detailed studies of the interrelations among the various elements of these matrices have resulted in profound insights into many psychological conditions and patterns of human experience.
One of the most striking aspects of the perinatal domain is the close relationship between the experiences of birth and death. The encounter with suffering and struggle, and the annihilation of all previous reference points in the birth process, are so close to the experience of death that Grof often refers to the entire phenomenon as the death-rebirth experience. Indeed, the visions associated with this experience frequently involve symbols of death, and the corresponding physical symptoms may provoke feelings of an ultimate existential crisis that can be so vivid they are confused with real dying. The perinatal level of the unconscious, then, is the level of both birth and death, a domain of existential experiences that exert a crucial influence on our mental and emotional life. 'Birth and death,' Grof writes, 'appear to be the alpha and omega of human existence, and any psychological system that does not incorporate them has to remain superficial and incomplete .' 32
The experiential encounter with birth and death in the course of psychotherapy often amounts to a true existential crisis, forcing people to examine seriously the meaning of their lives and the values they live by. Worldly ambitions, competitive drives, the longing for status, power, or material possessions all tend to fade away when viewed against the background of potentially imminent death. As Carlos Castaneda has put it, recoanting the teachings of the Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan, 'An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it . . . Death is the only wise adviser that we have.' 33
The only way to overcome the existential dilemma of the human condition, ultimately, is to transcend it by experiencing one's existence within a broader cosmic context. This is achieved in the transpersonal domain, the last major domain of Grofs cartography of the unconscious. Transpersonal experiences seem to offer deep insights into the nature and relevance of the spiritual dimension of consciousness. Like psychodynamic and perinatal experiences, they tend to occur in thematic clusters, but their organization is much more difficult to describe in factual language, as Jung and numerous mystics have emphasized, because the logical basis of our language is seriously challenged by these experiences. In particular, transpersonal experiences may involve so-called paranormal, or psychic, phenomena, which have been notoriously difficult to handle within the framework of rational thinking and scientific analysis. In fact, there seems to be a complementary relationship between psychic phenomena and the scientific method. Psychic phenomena seem to manifest themselves in full strength only outside the framework of analytic thought, and to diminish progressively as their observation and analysis become more and more scientific.34
Wilber's and Grofs models both indicate that the ultimate understanding of human consciousness goes beyond words and concepts. This raises the important question whether it is at all possible to make scientific statements about the nature of consciousness; and, furthermore, since consciousness is of central concern to psychology, whether psychology should be regarded as a science. The answers obviously depend on one's definition of science. Traditionally science has been associated with measurement and with quantitative statements, ever since Galileo banned quality from the sphere of scientific knowledge, and most scientists today still take this view. The philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead expresses the essence of the scientific method in the following rule: 'Search for measurable elements among your phenomena, and then search for relations between these measures of physical quantities. ' 35
A science concerned only with quantity and based exclusively on measurement is inherently unable to deal with experience, quality, or values. It will therefore be inadequate for understanding the nature of consciousness, since consciousness is a central aspect of our inner world and thus, first of all, an experience. Indeed, both Grof and Wilber describe their maps of consciousness in terms of domains of experience. The more scientists insist on quantitative statements, the less they are able to describe the nature of consciousness. In psychology the extreme case is given by behaviorism, which deals exclusively with measurable functions and behavior patterns and, consequently, cannot make any statement about consciousness at all, denying, in fact, even its existence.
The question, then, will be: Can there be a science that is not based exclusively on measurement; an understanding of reality that includes quality and experience and yet can be called scientific? I believe that such an understanding is, indeed, possible. Science, in my view, need not be restricted to measurements and quantitative analyses. I am prepared to call any approach to knowledge scientific that satisfies two conditions: all knowledge must be based on systematic observation, and it must be expressed in terms of self-consistent but limited and approximate models. These requirements - the empirical basis and the process of model making - represent to me the two essential elements of the scientific method. Other aspects, such as quantification or the use of mathematics, are often desirable but are not crucial.
The process of model making consists of forming a logical consistent network of concepts to interconnect the observed data. In classical science the data were quantities, obtained through measurement, and the conceptual models were expressed, whenever possible, in mathematical language. The purpose of quantification was twofold: to gain precision, and to guarantee scientific objectivity by eliminating any reference to the observer. Quantum theory has changed the classical view of science considerably by revealing the crucial role of the observer's consciousness in the process of observation and thus invalidating the idea of an objective description of nature. 36 Nevertheless, quantum theory is still based on measurement and is, in fact, the most quantitative of all scientific disciplines, reducing all the properties of atoms to sets of integral numbers. 37 Quantum physicists therefore cannot make any statements about the nature of consciousness within the framework of their science, even though human consciousness has been recognized as an inseparable part of that framework.
A true science of consciousness will deal with qualities rather than quantities, and will be based on shared experience rather than verifiable measurements. The patterns of experience constituting the data of such a science cannot be quantified or analyzed into fundamental elements, and they will always be subjective to varying degrees. On the other hand, the conceptual models interconnecting the data must be logically consistent, like all scientific models, and may even include quantitative elements. Grofs and Wilber's maps of consciousness are excellent examples of this new kind of scientific approach. They are characteristic of a new psychology, a science that will quantify its statements whenever this method is appropriate, but will also be able to deal with qualities and values based on human experience.
The new bootstrap, or systems, approach to psychology includes a conception of mental illness that is fully consistent with the general views of health and illness outlined in the previous chapter. Like all illness, mental illness is seen as a multidimensional phenomenon involving interdependent physical, psychological, and social aspects. When Freud developed psychoanalysis, the nervous disorders known as neuroses were central in his thinking, but since then the main attention of psychiatrists has shifted to the more serious disturbances named psychoses, and especially to a broad category of severe mental disorders that have been designated, rather arbitrarily, as schizophrenia.*(*From the Greek skhizein ('to split') and phren ('mind').) Unlike the neuroses, these mental illnesses go far beyond the psychodynamic level and cannot be fully understood unless the biosocial, existential, and transpersonal domains of the psyche are taken into account. Such a multilevel approach is certainly needed, since half of all hospital beds available to mentally ill patients in the United States are occupied by people diagnosed as schizophrenics.38
Most current psychiatric treatments deal with the biomedical mechanisms associated with a specific mental disorder and, in doing so, have been very successful in suppressing symptoms with psychoactive drugs. This approach has not helped psychiatrists understand mental illness any better, nor has it allowed their patients to solve the underlying problems. In view of these shortcomings of the biomedical approach, over the past twenty-five years a number of psychiatrists and psychologists have developed a systemic view of psychotic disorders that takes into account the multiple facets of mental illness; this view is both social and existential.
Failure to evaluate one's perception and experience of reality and to integrate them into a coherent world view seems to be central to serious mental illness. In current psychiatric practice many people are diagnosed as psychotics, not on the basis of their behavior but rather on the basis of the content of their experiences. These experiences, typically, are of a transpersonal nature and in sharp contraditiction to all common sense and to the classical Western world view. However, many of them are well known to mystics, occur frequently in deep meditation, and can also be induced quite easily by various other methods. The new definition of what is normal and what is pathological is not based on the content and nature of one's experiences, but rather on the way in which they are handled and on the degree to which a person is able to integrate these unusual experiences into his life. Research by humanistic and transpersonal psychologists has shown that the spontaneous occurrence of non-ordinary experiences of reality is much higher than suspected in conventional psychiatry. 39 Harmonious integration of these experiences is therefore crucial to mental health, and sympathetic support and assistance in this process, based on an understanding of the full spectrum of human consciousness, will be. of vital importance in dealing with many forms of mental illness.
The inability of some people to integrate transpersonal experiences is often aggravated by a hostile environment. Immersed in a world of symbols and myth, they feel isolated and unable to communicate the nature of their experience. The fear of this isolation can be so overwhelming that it causes a wave of existential panic, and it is this panic more than anything else which produces many of the signs of 'insanity.'40 The feeling of isolation and the expectation of hostility are further accentuated by psychiatric treatment, which often involves a degrading examination, stigmatizing diagnosis, and forced hospitalization, which completely invalidate the person as a human being. As a recent investigator of the psychological effects of mental institutions noted, 'Neither anecdotal nor 'hard' data can convey the overwhelming sense of powerlessness which invades the individual as he is continually exposed to the depersonalization of the psychiatric hospital.' 41
Among the experiences that psychotic people fail to integrate, those relating to their social environment seem to play a crucial role. Recent major advances in the understanding of schizophrenia have been based on the recognition that the disorder cannot be understood by focusing on individual patients, but has to be perceived in the context of their relations to other people. Numerous studies of families of schizophrenics have shown that the person who is diagnosed as being psychotic is, almost without exception, part of a network of extremely disturbed patterns of communication within the family. 42 The illness manifested in the 'identified patient' is really a disorder of the entire family system.
The central characteristic in the communication patterns of families of diagnosed schizophrenics was identified by Gregory Bateson as a 'double bind' situation. 43 Bateson found that the behavior labeled schizophrenic represents a special strategy which a person invents in order to live in an unlivable situation. Such a person finds himself facing a situation within his family that seems to put him into an untenable position, a situation in which he 'can't win,' no matter what he does. For example, the double bind may be set up for a child by contradictory verbal and nonverbal messages, either from one or from both parents, with both kinds of messages implying punishment or threats to the child's emotional security. When these situations occur repeatedly the double-bind structure may become a habitual expectation in the child's mental life, and this is likely to generate schizophrenic experiences and behavior. This does not mean that everybody becomes schizophrenic in such a situation. What exactly makes one person psychotic while another remains normal under the same external circumstances is a complex question, likely to involve biochemical and genetic factors that are not yet well understood. In particular the effects of nutrition on mental health need much further exploration.
R.D. Laing has pointed out that the strategy designed by a so-called schizophrenic can often be recognized as an appropriate response to severe social stress, representing the person's desperate efforts to maintain his integrity in the face of paradoxical and contradictory pressures. Laing extends this observation to an eloquent critique of society as a whole, in which he sees the condition of alienation, of being asleep, unconscious, 'out of one's mind,' as the condition of the normal person.44 Such 'normally' alienated men and women are taken to be sane, says Laing, simply because they act more or less like anyone else, whereas other forms of alienation, which are out of step with the prevailing one, are labeled psychotic by the 'normal' majority. Laing offers the following observation:
Laing succinctly exposes the dual role of cultural factors in the development of mental illness. On the one hand, the culture generates much of the anxiety that leads to psychotic behavior, and on the other hand it sets up the norms for what is considered sane. In our culture the criteria used to define mental health - sense of identity, image, recognition of time and space, perception of the environment, and so on - require that a person's perceptions and views be compatible with the Cartesian-Newtonian framework. The Cartesian world view is not merely the principal frame of reference but is regarded as the only accurate description of reality. This restrictive attitude is reflected in the tendency of mental health professionals to use rather rigid diagnostic systems. The dangers of such cultural conditioning are well illustrated by a recent experiment in which eight volunteers gained admission to various American mental institutions by saying they had been hearing voices.46 These pseudopatients found themselves irrevocably labeled as schizophrenics in spite of their subsequent normal behavior. Ironically, many of the other inmates soon recognized that the pseudopatients were normal, but the hospital personnel were unable to acknowledge their normal behavior once they had been diagnosed as psychotic.
It would seem that the concept of mental health should include a harmonious integration of the Cartesian and the transpersonal modes of perception and experience. To perceive reality exclusively in the transpersonal mode is incompatible with adequate functioning and survival in the everyday world. To experience an incoherent mixture of both modes of perception without being able to integrate them is psychotic. But to be limited to the Cartesian mode of perception alone is also madness; it is the madness of our dominant culture.
A person functioning exclusively in the Cartesian mode may be free from manifest symptoms but cannot be considered mentally healthy. Such individuals typically lead ego-centered, competitive, goal-oriented lives. Overpreoccupied with their past and their future, they tend to have a limited awareness of the present and thus a limited ability to derive satisfaction from ordinary activities in everyday life. They concentrate on manipulating the external world and measure their living standard by the quantity of material possessions, while they become ever more alienated from their inner world and unable to appreciate the process of life. For people whose existence is dominated by this mode of experience no level of wealth, power, or fame will bring genuine satisfaction, and thus they become infused with a sense of meaninglessness, futility, and even absurdity that no amount of external success can dispel.
The symptoms of this cultural madness are all-pervasive throughout our academic, corporate, and political institutions, with the nuclear arms race perhaps its more psychotic manifestation. The integration of the Cartesian mode of perception into a broader ecological and transpersonal perspective has now become an urgent task, to be carried out at all individual and social levels. Genuine mental health would involve a balanced interplay of both modes of experience, a way of life in which one's identification with the ego is playful and tentative rather than absolute and mandatory, while the concern with material possessions is pragmatic rather than obsessive. Such a way of being would be characterized by an affirmative attitude toward life, an emphasis on the present moment, and a deep awareness of the spiritual dimension of existence. Indeed, these attitudes and values have been emphasized throughout the ages by saints and sages who experience reality in the transpersonal mode. It is well known that the experiences of these mystics are often strikingly similar to those of schizophrenics. Yet mystics are not insane, because they know how to integrate their transpersonal experiences with their ordinary modes of consciousness. In Laing's profound metaphor, "Mystics and schizophrenics find themselves in the same ocean, but the mystics swim whereas the schizophrenics drown." 47
The view of mental illness as a multidimensional phenomenon that may involve the entire spectrum of consciousness implies a corresponding multileveled approach to psychotherapy. By using the languages of different schools - Freudian, Jungian, Reichian, Rogerian, Laingian, and others - to describe different facets of the psyche, psychotherapists should be able to integrate these schools into a coherent framework for interpreting the range of phenomena encountered in the therapeutic process. Therapists know that different clients will exhibit different symptoms which often require different terminologies. Jung, for example, wrote in his autobiography, 'To my mind, in dealing with individuals, only individual understanding will do. We need a different language for every patient. In one analysis I can be heard talking the Adierian dialect, in another the Freudian.' 48 Indeed, the same client often goes through different phases in the course of therapy, each characterized by different symptoms and a different sense of identity. When therapeutic work at one level of consciousness has resulted in improved integration, the person may find herself spontaneously at another level. The new framework will make it much easier, in dealing with such cases, to apply a whole spectrum of therapies as the client moves through the spectrum of consciousness.
At the ego or psychodynamic level, pathological symptoms seem to result from a breakdown of communication between various conscious and unconscious facets of the psyche. The main goal of ego-level therapies is to integrate these facets, to heal the split between ego-consciousness and the unconscious, and thus to achieve a fuller sense of identity. To interpret the multitude of experiences at the psychodynamic level Freudian theory seems to be the ideal framework. It allows therapist and client to understand the manifestation of various psychosexual dynamics, regressions to childhood, the reliving of psychosexual traumas, and many other phenomena of a clearly autobiographical nature. However, the Freudian model is limited to the psychodynamic domain and proves inadequate when deeper existential and transpersonal experiences emerge. Nor can it deal with the social origins of individual problems, which are often crucial. The social context is emphasized by a number of approaches that address themselves, in Wilber's terminology, to the biosocial domain of consciousness. In socially oriented therapies the client's problems and symptoms are seen as originating in the pattern of relationships between the individual and other people, and in interactions with social groups and institutions. Transactional analysis, family therapy, and various forms of group therapy, including those with explicit political orientations, use this approach.
While the therapies operating at the ego level aim to expand the person's sense of identity by integrating various unconscious facets of the psyche, those operating at the existential level go one step further. They deal with the integration of mind and body, and their aim is the self-actualization of the total human being. Therapeutic approaches of this kind are not psychotherapies in the strict sense of the term, since they often involve a combination of psychological and physical techniques. Examples include gestalt therapy, Reichian therapy, and the various bodywork therapies. Many of these involve powerful stimulations of the total organism, which often lead to profound experiences related to birth and death, the two outstanding existential phenomena. Grofs perinatal matrices represent a comprehensive conceptual framework for interpreting existential experiences of this kind.
At the transpersonal level, finally, the aim of the therapy is to help clients integrate their transpersonal experiences with their ordinary modes of consciousness in the process of inner growth and spiritual development. Conceptual models dealing with the transpersonal realm include Jung's analytical psychology, Maslow's psychology of being, and Assagioli's psychosynthesis. At the deep end of the transpersonal domain of consciousness, which Wilber calls the level of Mind, the aims of transpersonal therapy merge with those of spiritual practice.
The idea that the human organism has aninherent tendency to heal itself and to evolve is as central to psychotherapy as to any other therapy. In the systems approach the therapist aims, first, to initiate the healing process by helping the client get into a state in which the natural healing forces become active. Contemporary schools of psychotherapy all seem to share this notion of a special healing state. Some call it a resonance phenomenon, others speak of energizing the organism, and most therapists agree that it is virtually impossible to describe exactly what happens in those crucial moments. Thus Laing: 'The really decisive moments in psychotherapy, as every patient or therapist who has ever experienced them knows, are unpredictable, unique, unforgettable, always unrepeatable and often indescribable.' 49
Mental illnesses often involve the spontaneous emergence of unusual experiences. In such cases no special techniques are necessary to initiate the healing process, and the best therapeutic approach is to provide a sympathetic and supportive environment in which these experiences are allowed to unfold. This has been practiced very successfully with schizophrenics in therapeutic communities, for example in England by Laing and in California by John Perry. 50 Therapists who use such an approach have often remarked that the experiential drama that is part of the process of healing seems to unfold as an orderly sequence of events that can be interpreted as a journey through the schizophrenic's inner world. As Bateson described the situation:
It has often been pointed out that our current mental hospitals are quite inadequate to deal with psychotic journeys of this kind. What we need instead, according to Laing, is 'an initiation ceremonial through which the person will be guided with full social encouragement and sanction into inner space and time, by people who have been there and back again. ' 52
In many cases of mental illness the resistance to change is so strong that it is necessary to use specific techniques to stimulate the organism - some form of catalyst to induce the healing process. Such catalysts may be pharmacological, or they may be physical or psychological techniques; one of the most important catalysts will always be the personality of the therapist. Once the therapeutic process has been initiated, the therapist's role is to facilitate the emerging experiences and help the client overcome resistances. The full unfolding of experiential patterns can be extremely dramatic and challenging for both client and therapist, but the originators of this experiential approach believe that one should encourage and support the therapeutic process no matter what form and intensity it assumes. Their motivation to do so is based on the idea that the symptoms of mental illness represent frozen elements of an experiential pattern that needs to be completed and fully integrated if the symptoms arc to disappear. Rather than suppressing symptoms with psychoactive drugs, the new therapies activate and intensify them to bring about their full experience, conscious integration, and final resolution.
A great many new therapeutic techniques have been developed to mobilize blocked energy and transform symptoms into experiences. In contrast to the traditional approaches, which were mostly limited to verbal interactions between therapist and client, the new therapies encourage nonverbal expression and emphasize direct experience involving the total organism. Hence they are often referred to as experiential therapies. The elemental nature and intensity of the experiential patterns underlying the manifest symptoms have convinced most practitioners of the new therapies that the chances of drastically influencing the psychosomatic system through verbal channels alone are quite remote, and thus great emphasis is placed on therapeutic approaches that combine psychological and physical techniques.
Many therapists believe that one of the most important events in psychotherapy is a certain resonance between the unconscious of the client and that of the therapist. Such a resonance will be most powerful if both therapist and client are willing to drop their roles, masks, defenses, and any other barriers standing between them, so that the therapeutic encounter becomes, as Laing describes it, an 'authentic meeting between human beings. ' 53 Perhaps the first to perceive psychotherapy in such a way was Jung, who strongly emphasized the mutual influence between therapist and client and compared their relationship to an alchemical symbiosis. More recently Carl Rogers affirmed the need to create a special supportive atmosphere to enhance the client's experience and potential for self-actualization. Rogers suggested that the therapist should be with the client in a state of intense awareness, focusing fully on the client's experience and deeply reflecting all verbal and nonverbal expressions from a position of empathy and unconditional positive regard.
One of the most popular approaches among the new experiential therapies is the one developed by Fritz Peris, known as gestalt therapy.54 It shares with gestalt psychology the basic assumption that human beings do not perceive things as unrelated and isolated elements but organize them during the perceptual process into meaningful wholes. Accordingly the orientation of gestalt therapy is explicitly holistic, emphasizing the tendency, inherent in all individuals, to integrate their experiences and to actualize themselves in harmony with their environment. Psychological symptoms represent blocked elements of experience, and the aim of therapy is to facilitate the process of personal integration by helping the client complete the experiential gestalt.
To unlock the client's blocked experiences the gestalt therapist will direct attention toward various patterns of communication, both interpersonal and internal, with the aim of enhancing the client's awareness of the detailed physical and emotional processes involved. This sharpening of awareness is meant to bring about the special state in which experiential patterns become fluid and the organism begins the process of self-healing and integration. The emphasis is not on interpreting problems, nor on dealing with past events, but on experiencing conflicts and traumas in the present moment. Individual work is often done within the context of a group, and many gestalt therapists are combining psychological approaches with some form of bodywork. This multilevel approach seems to encourage profound existential and, occasionally, even transpersonal experiences.
The most powerful way of activating experiences from all levels of the unconscious, and historically one of the oldest forms of experiential therapy, is the therapeutic use of psychedelics. The basic principles and practical aspects of psychedelic therapy have been set forth in great detail by Stanislav Grof," in view of possible future applications once the legal restrictions caused by widespread misuse of LSD are relaxed. In addition, a number of neo-Reichian approaches can be used to energize the organism in similar ways through physical manipulations.
Grof himself, with his wife Christina, has integrated hyperventilation, evocative music, and bodywork into a therapeutic method that can induce surprisingly intense experiences after a relatively short period of fast, deep breathing.56 The basic principle is to encourage the client to concentrate on breathing and other physical processes within the body, and to turn off the intellectual analysis as much as possible while surrendering to sensations and emotions. In most instances breathing and music alone lead to successful resolution of the encountered problems. Residual issues, if any, are handled by focused bodywork, during which the therapist tries to facilitate experiences by amplifying the manifest symptoms and sensations and helping to find appropriate modes of expressing them - through sounds, movements, postures, or any other nonverbal ways. After experimenting with this method for a number of years, Grof is convinced that it represents one of the most promising approaches to psychotherapy and self-exploration.
Another form of experiential therapy, which is essentially a neo-Reichian approach, is the primal therapy developed by Arthur Janov.57 It is based on the idea that neuroses are symbolic behavior patterns that represent the person's defenses against excessive pain associated with childhood traumas. The purpose is to overcome the defenses and to work through the primal pains by experiencing them fully while reliving the memories of the events that caused them. The main method of inducing these experiences is the 'primal scream,' an involuntary, deep, rattling sound that expresses in a condensed form the person's reaction to past traumas. According to Janov, successive layers of blocked pain can gradually be eliminated in this way by repeated sessions of primal screaming.
Although Janov's initial enthusiastic statements about the efficacy of his method have not withstood the test of time, primal therapy represents an extremely powerful experiential approach. Unfortunately, Janov's conceptual system is not broad enough to account for the transpersonal experiences his technique is likely to trigger. For this reason a number of primal therapists have recently dissociated themselves from Janov and formed alternative schools that continue to use Janov's basic techniques while seeking a more open-minded theoretical framework.
Modern psychotherapists have clearly gone far beyond the biomedical model from which psychotherapy originally emerged. The therapeutic process is no longer seen as a treatment of disease but as an adventure in self-exploration. The therapist does not play a dominant role but becomes the facilitator of a process in which the client is the chief protagonist and bears full responsibility. The therapist creates an environment conducive to self-exploration and acts as a guide while this process unfolds. To assume such a role psychotherapists need qualities very different from those required in conventional psychiatry. Medical training may be useful but is by no means sufficient, and even the knowledge of specific therapeutic techniques will not be critical since these can be acquired in a relatively short time. The essential attributes of a good psychotherapist will be such personal qualities as warmth and genuineness, the ability to listen and to show empathy, and willingness to participate in another person's intense experiences. In addition the therapist's own stage of self-actualization and experiential knowledge of the full spectrum of consciousness will be vital.
The basic strategy of the new experiential psychotherapy requires that, to achieve the best therapeutic results, both therapist and client suspend as much as possible their conceptual frameworks, anticipations, and expectations during the experiential process. Both should be open and adventurous, ready to follow the flow of experience with a deep trust that the organism will find its own way to heal itself and evolve. Experience has shown that if the therapist is willing to encourage and support such a healing journey without fully understanding it, and the client is open to venture into unknown territory, they will often be rewarded by extraordinary therapeutic achievements.58 After the experience is completed, they may try to analyze what happened if they feel inclined to do so, but they should be aware that such an analysis and conceptualization, even though it may be intellectually stimulating, will have little therapeutic relevance. In general, therapists have observed that the more complete an experience, the less analysis and interpretation it will require. A complete experiential pattern, or gestalt, tends to be self-evident and self-validating to the person whose psyche produces it. Ideally, then, the conversation following a therapeutic session will have the form of a happy sharing instead of a painful struggle to understand what happened.
In venturing far into the existential and transpersonal domains of human consciousness, psychotherapists will have to be prepared to deal with experiences so unusual that they defy any attempt at rational explanation.59 Experiences of such an extraordinary nature are relatively rare, but even milder forms of existential and transpersonal experience will present serious challenges to conventional conceptual frameworks of psychotherapists and their clients, and intellectual resistance to emerging experiences will tend to impede the healing process. Clinging to a mechanistic conception of reality, a linear notion of time, or a narrow concept of cause and effect may turn into a powerful mechanism of defense against the emergence of transpersonal experiences and thus interfere with the therapeutic process. As Grof has pointed out, the ultimate obstacle for experiential therapies is no longer of an emotional or physical nature, but takes the form of a cognitive barrier.60 The practitioners of experiential psycho-therapies will therefore be much more successful if they are familiar with the new paradigm that is now emerging from modern physics, systems biology, and transpersonal psychology, so that they can offer their clients not only powerful stimulations of experience but also the corresponding cognitive expansion.
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