I want to introduce the work of Stanislov Grof, in particular from his book co-authored with wife Christina called “The Stormy Search for the self.”
Stanislov was one of the founders of a branch of psychology that has become known as transpersonal psychology. Trans-personal means…. relating to states or areas of consciousness beyond the limits of personal identity… beyond our personal biographical history… …Reaching into dimensions of human experience that cross the boundaries of the individual self into the mythical, symbolic, archetypal or spiritual realm.
Experiences with the transpersonal reality are usually associated with Non-Ordinary States of consciousness and the related triggers for accessing these states.
Spiritual emergence is a essentially a transformational crisis that may be initiated or triggered by the likes of disease, death, an operation, drugs, sleep deprivation, shamanic rituals, near death experiences, dance, childbirth, sex, kundalini awakening or a myriad of other means.
Much of Stanislov Grof’s work developed out of clinical therapeutic sessions utilizing the compound LSD, which will rapidly initiate states of non-ordinary consciousness. I’ll attempt to cover some of the types of experiences and the maps that have been created for navigating these realms of consciousness in later presentations but for now I’ll continue with how I initially came to encounter Stanislov Grof’s work.
After I finished High School, I attended University to study music. At the end of the first year I had an existential crisis brought about due to severe alcohol poisoning. I was so sick I could hardly get out of bed for a couple of weeks. I’d completely shut down my nervous system and could not feel my body.
It was evident upon later reflection that the small town Australian culture and family system that I had been raised in immersed me in a culture of alcoholism, and that my daily use of alcohol mirrored that which I witnessed. My use was an attempt to numb myself and disconnect from painful emotions that I had not been supported in processing throughout my earlier years.
When I developed alcohol poisoning, I was so sick that I thought I was going to die, and so in some desperate attempt to salvage myself, I prayed and bargained with whatever my idea of some higher power was at the time, and made a promise to myself that if I lived that I would stop drinking alcohol. Which I did for the next twenty years.
In the process of spiritual emergence, we often encounter a spiritual emergency. A crisis point that initiates the transformational process.
So that crisis point was really a blessing in disguise that liberated my consciousness from the fogy cloud of drunkenness that I was attempting to navigate through life in.
Although I didn’t attend a rehabilitation process or groups such as AA, if you study the 12 step program of AA: one of the entrance points is recognizing that you are out of control (or paradoxically attempting to control) your life, and you begin to surrender yourself to the guidance of a Higher Power.
As a result of my sobriety I began having a keen interest in discovering my spiritual identity. Initially, all I had available to me was attending the predominant western organized religions, however, I could not accept the depressing programs of guilt shame and the doctrine of original sin. So I began exploring eastern traditions and new age material in an attempt to discover my spiritual identity.
After a couple of years at University I was excited to find that there was an elective unit titled “Spiritual Wellbeing” and so I enrolled in this course of study. The course had been created by a lecturing who had it passed into the curriculum through the indigenous studies department. She had modeled this unit on the work of Stanislov Grof and his work identifying the process of “spiritual emergence”.
The first week that I attended class we sat in circle and gave an introduction to ourselves. I distinctly recall telling the members of that group that I’d had a problem with alcohol and although I had been sober for two years at age 21, that I was still surrounded by friends, family and culture that indulged in these unconscious practices and that it was a very lonely experience for me. I also told them that I didn’t really understand the process of grief as I had never had anyone close to me die.
Well by the end of that week and returning to class the following week, I had had two friends die in separate situations due partly to drug and alcohol related factors, and I was the last one to see both of them.
My friend Mark had been at another friend’s 21st bday party. Been so drunk, took keys off him. He wasn’t happy but I drove him home. Didn’t want him having accident injuring himself or others. During car trip he began attempting to kick the back window out of my car. I repeatedly asked him to stop. Warned him if he continued I’d let him out and he could walk home. He stopped for a while then continued. Let him out and watched him walk into a wall of fog in the headlights of the car.
Following morning his flatmate arrived at my door and announced. “Mark is gone” “Gone where”…. “He’s dead”.
In that moment of perhaps shock, there was an Intuitive voice that spoke to me from a very calm and still point within me that said, you will not blame yourself for this, this is not your fault.
I somehow had knew and had a sense that everything was perfect and orchestrated as it was meant to be. And that I’d perfectly played my role in this orchestration.
After visiting Police station to give a statement I then went to visit his girlfriend who was also a friend of mine.
As I was leaving her place, another friend Nathan drove past and I waved him down. He had stayed at my place after the party but let early the following morning to attend work on a movie set in Byron Bay. I told him what had happened. He was about to drive back to the gold coast. He’d been partying hard and mostly awake for days.
The following morning I get a call from my friend who’s party we had been at saying he’d seen on late night news a car crash that looked like Nathan’s car. Five minutes later his other friends ring to inform us that was the case. He’d fallen asleep at the wheel driving back to the gold coast and hit a truck.
Getting that news was very surreal. There was a sense of elation due to what seemed like the perfection of it all.
Death and birth open a portal to the beyond. The veils between the worlds become quite thin when we are close to these states, where we can seemingly see the perfection and interconnectedness of everything. It may put you in touch with an expanded identity, a greater sense of self. What I am referring to in the context of these presentations as your future self dreaming.
In my experience of the death of my two friends, everything felt like it was by design. It was as though I had to be the one to take my friends keys away and drop him off on the side of the road after his persistence with wanting out of my car, so he could continue his journey.
Seemingly, I’d got what I asked for in my co-creation of this process, or had become aware the echos from my future self that was speaking to and through me throughout this process.
Of the many things that may initiate a spiritual emergency, grief is certainly one of them. I future episodes I’ll explore the grief process in greater detail in context of the process of spiritual emergence.
Some time after these events, my housemate realised that she worked with the women who had been in the car who ran over my friend. She wanted to meet and we began an amazing friendship of growth for which I’m greatly appreciative.
Over the next 15 weeks or so of the university semester, initially the first few weeks became quite a blur. Compounded with this experience, my friend, flatmate, band member who had been in the car with me when I dropped off my friend Mark also developed a drug induced psychosis that was quite acute for several months. Being around somebody in this state for long periods of time can be quite challenging and disorientating, particularly due to the disassociation they may be experiencing and subsequent projection or transference of the inner material of their psyche onto the outer reality around them.
In the context of spiritual emergence, however, the experience of psychosis is also another valid OPENING into the transpersonal realm. The common denominator in all transformational crisis is the awakening into consciousness of elements within our psyche that have been previously contained within the unconscious. The various triggers mentioned earlier, that may be the catalyst for this transformation, are what allow this unconscious material to be birthed into our conscious reality to hopefully be integrated. And as with any birth process, this entails its own struggles and challenges. This process may at times look like psychosis and without integration people may loop around in these states for extended periods of time.
At the conclusion of my semester studying spiritual well being, all the student had to give a presentation or testimonial about their personal relationship with the divine, and what that was or meant to them. Obviously my experiences during the duration of that course had begun awakening more of what the direct experience of the divine was for me.
Whilst listening to another student named Steve give his presentation, he elaborated on some wild stories of travelling through Europe, developing psychosis, sleeping a castles, being admitted to a mental health hospital. I was moved by his recollection that concluded with his realizations about the nature of forgiveness that he had come to in relation to sexual abuse that he had experienced by a man when he was a child. And how learning to forgive had healed him of the trauma that had resulted in his admission to mental health hospitals.
As he spoke, he talked about a period when he had hitch hiked from one end of Australia to the other, and it suddenly dawned on me after 15 weeks of getting to know him that I had picked him up hitchhiking a couple of years earlier and we had spent 4 hours chatting during the drive. It was like being reacquainted with an old friend who I hadn’t seen in a long time and was an interesting co-incidence or synchronicity to close out that particular course of study.
So hopefully this talk has given a little insight into the concept of spiritual emergence and prepared a platform for further exploration of transpersonal psychology and non-ordinary states of consciousness based on the work of Stanislov Grof’s in relation to my own initial experiences.