Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index
Psychology of the Future: Lessons from Modern Consciousness Research
Grof, Stanislav (2000)
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Description: paperback: xvi + 345 pages.
Contents: Preface, 9 chapters, references, about the author, index.
More than forty years ago, a powerful experience lasting only several hours of clock-time profoundly changed my personal and professional life. As a young psychiatric resident, only a few months after my graduation from medical school, I volunteered for an experiment with LSD, a substance with remarkable psychoactive properties that had been discovered by the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in the Sandoz pharmaceutical laboratories in Basel.
This session, particularly its culmination period during which I had an overwhelming and indescribable experience of cosmic consciousness, awakened in me an intense lifelong interest in nonordinary states of consciousness. Since that time, most of my clinical and research activities have consisted of systematic exploration of the therapeutic, transformative, and evolutionary potential of these states. The four decades that I have dedicated to consciousness research have been for me an extraordinary adventure of discovery and self-discovery. (page ix)
This book is an attempt to point out in a systematic and comprehensive way the areas that require a radical revision and to suggest the direction and nature of the necessary changes. The conceptual challenges presented by consciousness research are very fundamental and cannot be resolved by a minor conceptual patchwork of a few ad hoc hypotheses. In my opinion, the nature and scope of the conceptual crisis facing psychology and psychiatry is comparable to the situation introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century into physics by the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment. (page xi)
The observations from holotropic states seriously undermine the fundamental cornerstone of materialistic thinking, the belief in the primacy of matter and in the absence of the spiritual dimension in the fabric of existence. They bring direct experiential and empirical evidence that spirituality is a critical and legitimate attribute of the human psyche and of the universal scheme of things. This important topic is given special attention in the book. It is argued that, properly understood, spirituality and science are not and cannot be in conflict, but represent two complementary approaches to existence. (page xii)
Chapter 1. Healing and Heuristic Potential of Nonordinary States of Consciousness
Forty years of intensive and systematic research of holotropic states of consciousness led me to the conclusion that radical inner transformation of humanity and rise to a higher level of consciousness might be our only real hope for the future. I would like to believe that those who are about to embark on the inner journey, or are traveling it already, will find this book and the information presented in it to be useful companions in this challenging adventure. (page xiii)
In this book, I will focus on a large and important subgroup of non-ordinary states of consciousness which significantly differ from the rest and represent an invaluable source of new information about the human psyche in health and disease. They also have a remarkable therapeutic and transformative potential. Over the years, daily clinical observations convinced me about the extraordinary nature of these experiences and about the far-reaching implications they have for the theory and practice of psychiatry. I found it difficult to believe that contemporary psychiatry does not recognize their specific features and does not have a special name for them.
Because I feel strongly that they deserve to be distinguished from the rest and placed into a special category, I have coined for them the name holotropic. This composite word literally means "oriented toward wholeness" or "moving in the direction of wholeness" (from the Greek holos = whole and trepein = moving toward or in the direction of something). The full meaning of this term and the justification for its use will become clear later in this book. It suggests that in our everyday state of consciousness we identify with only a small fraction of who we already are. In holotropic states, we can transcend the narrow boundaries of the body ego and reclaim our full identity. (page 2)
In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, mainstream psychiatrists continue to view all holotropic states of consciousness as pathological, disregard the information generated in researching them, and do not distinguish between mystical states and psychosis. They also continue using various pharmacological means to suppress indiscriminately all spontaneously occurring nonordinary states of consciousness. It is remarkable to what extent mainstream science has ignored, distorted, and misinterpreted all the evidence concerning holotropic states, whether their source has been historical study, comparative religion, anthropology, or various areas of modern consciousness research, such as parapsychology, psychedelic therapy, experiential psychotherapies, hypnosis, thanatology, or work with laboratory mind-altering techniques.
The rigidity with which mainstream scientists have dealt with the information amassed by all these disciplines is something that one would expect from religious fundamentalists. It is very surprising when such attitude occurs in the world of science, since it is contrary to the very spirit of scientific inquiry. More than four decades that I have spent in consciousness research have convinced me that serious examination of the data from the study of holotropic states would have far-reaching consequences not only for the theory and practice of psychiatry, but for the Western scientific worldview. The only way modern science can preserve its monistic materialistic philosophy is by systematically excluding and censoring all the data concerning holotropic states. (page 16)
Chapter Six: Spirituality and Religion
To prevent misunderstanding and confusion that in past compromised many similar discussions, it is critical to make a clear distinction between spirituality and religion. Spirituality is based on direct experiences of nonordinary aspects and dimensions of reality. It does not require a special place or an officially appointed person mediating contact with the divine. The mystics do not need churches or temples. The context in which they experience the sacred dimensions of reality, including their own divinity, are their bodies and nature. And instead of officiating priests, they need a supportive group of fellow seekers or the guidance of a teacher who is more advanced on the inner journey than they are themselves.
Direct spiritual experiences appear in two different forms. The first of these, the experience of the immanent divine, involves subtly, but profoundly transformed perception of the everyday reality. A person having this form of spiritual experience sees people, animals, and the inanimate objects in the environment as radiant manifestations of a unified field of cosmic creative energy and realizes that the boundaries between them are illusory and unreal. This is a direct experience of nature as god, Spinoza's deus sive natura. Using the analogy with television, this experience could be likened to a situation where a black and white picture would suddenly change into one in vivid "living color." In both cases, much of the old perception of the world remains in place, but is radically redefined by the addiction of a new dimension.
The second form of spiritual experience, that of the transcendent divine, involves manifestation of archetypal beings and realms of reality that are ordinarily transphenomenal, unavailable to perception in the everyday state of consciousness. In this type of spiritual experience, entirely new elements seem to "unfold" or "explicate," to borrow terms from David Bohm, from another level of order of reality. When we return to the analogy with television, this would be like discovering that there exist channels other than the one we have previously been watching. (pages 210-211)
Spirituality involves a special kind of relationship between the individual and the cosmos and is, in its essence, a personal and private affair. By comparison, organized religion is institutionalized group activity that takes place in a designated location, a temple or a church, and involves a system of appointed officials who might or might not have had personal experiences of spiritual realities. ...
Brother Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and Christian philosopher, uses a beautiful metaphor to illustrate this situation. He compares the original mystical experience to the glowing magma of an exploding volcano, which is exciting, dynamic, and alive. After we have this experience, we feel the need to put it into a conceptual framework and formulate a doctrine. The mystical state represents a precious memory and we might create a ritual that will remind us of this momentous event. The experience connects us with the cosmic order and this has profound direct impact on our ethics - system of values, moral standards, and behavior. (page 211)
In visionary states, the experiences of other realities or of new perspectives on our everyday reality are so convincing and compelling that the individuals who have had them have no other choice than to incorporate them into their worldview. It is thus systematic experiential exposure to holotropic states of consciousness, on the one side, and the absence thereof, on the other, that sets the native cultures and technological societies ideologically so far apart. I have not yet met a single European, American, or member of one of the other technologized societies, who has had a deep experience of the transcendental realms and continues to subscribe to the worldview of Western materialistic science. This development is quite independent of the level of intelligence, type and degree of education, or professional credentials of the individuals involved. (page 218)
Chapter Seven. The Experience of Death and Dying: Psychological, Philosophical, and Spiritual Perspectives.
Conversely, it became clear that experiential confrontation with death in the course of therapy has important healing, transformative, and evolutionary potential. This research also revealed that the attitude toward death and coming to terms with it has important implications for the quality of one's life, hierarchy of values, and strategy of existence. Experiential encounter with death, whether it is symbolic (in meditation, psychedelic sessions, spiritual emergency, or holotropic breathwork) or real (in an accident, in war, in a concentration camp, or during a heart attack) can lead to a powerful spiritual opening. (page 220)
... Modern consciousness research has thus shown that the ancient eschatological texts are actually maps of the inner territories of the psyche encountered in profound holotropic states, including those associated with biological dying.
It is possible to spend one's entire lifetime without ever experiencing these realms or even being aware of their existence, until one is catapulted into them at the time of biological death. However, some people are able to explore this experiential territory while they are still alive. Among the tools that make this possible are psychedelic substances, powerful forms of experiential psychotherapy, serious spiritual practice, and participation in shamanic rituals. For many people, similar experiences occur spontaneously, without any known triggers, during psychospiritual crises (spiritual emergencies).
All these situations offer the possibility of deep experiential exploration of the inner territories of the psyche at a time when we are healthy and strong, so that the encounter with death does not come as a complete surprise at the time of biological demise. The seventeenth-century German Augustinian monk, Abraham of Santa Clara, expressed in a succinct way the importance of the experiential practice of dying: "The man who dies before he dies does not die when he dies."
This "dying before dying" has two important consequences: It liberates us from the fear of death and changes our attitude toward it. This eases considerably our experience of actually leaving the body at the time of our biological demise. At the same time, the elimination of the fear of death also transforms our way of being in the world. There is thus no fundamental difference between preparation for death and the practice of dying, on the one hand, and spiritual practice leading to enlightenment, on the other. For this reason, the ancient books of the dead could be used in both situations (pages 228-229)
Psychedelic Therapy in Patients with Terminal Diseases
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I had the privilege to participate for several years in a research program of psychedelic psychotherapy for terminal cancer patients, which was without a doubt the most radical and interesting attempt to alleviate the suffering of patients with incurable diseases and transform their experience of dying. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life to see how the attitude toward death and the experience of dying of many terminal cancer patients was transformed by profound mystical experiences in psychedelic sessions. (page 248)
The most important and striking effect of LSD in terminal cancer patients was a profound change in the concept of death. Deep experiences of psychospiritual death and rebirth, cosmic unity, past-life memories, and other transpersonal forms of consciousness seem to render physical death much less frightening. The fact that these experiences occur in a complex psychospiritual, mythological, and philosophical context cannot be dismissed as momentary delusional self-deception resulting from impaired brain functioning.
Psychedelic experiences that reach the perinatal and transpersonal level also typically have profound effect on the patients' hierarchy of values and life strategy. Psychological acceptance of impermanence and death results in realization of the futility and absurdity of grandiose ambitions and attachment to money, status, fame, and power, as well as pursuit of other temporary values. This makes it easier to face the termination of one's secular goals and the impending loss of all worldly possessions. Another important shift occurs in time orientation; the past and future become much less important than the present moment and "living one day at a time."
This is associated with increased zest, as well as a tendency to appreciate and enjoy every moment of life, and to derive pleasure from simple things like nature, food, sex, music, and human company. There is also typically a major increase in spirituality of a mystical, universal, and ecumenical nature, which is not related to any specific church affiliation. We have also seen instances where a dying individual's traditional religious beliefs were illuminated by new dimensions of meaning. (pages 255-256)
Chapter Eight. The Cosmic Game: Exploration of the Furthest Reaches of Human Consciousness
The preceding chapters of this book focused primarily on the implications of the research of holotropic states of consciousness for psychiatry, psychology, and psychotherapy. However, this work also generates many interesting philosophical, metaphysical, and spiritual insights. Irrespective of the initial motivation of the person involved and his or her background, systematic disciplined self-exploration using holotropic states in a good set and setting sooner or later tends to take the form of a deep philosophical and spiritual quest. I have seen on numerous occasions that people whose primary interest in psychedelic sessions or in the holotropic breathwork was therapeutic, professional, or artistic, suddenly started asking the most fundamental questions about existence when their inner process reached the transpersonal level. (page 269)
The Ensouled Nature and the Archetypal Domain
If we feel embarrassed by our discovery, we might prefer to use modern terminology such as numinous instead of sacred and archetypal figures instead of deities and demons. But we can no longer dismiss these experiences as mere hallucinations or fantasies. Deep personal experiences of this realm help us realize that the images of the cosmos found in preindustrial societies are not based on superstition, primitive "magical thinking," or psychotic visions, but on authentic experiences of alternate realities. The research of holotropic states has brought ample evidence that there are transphenomenal dimensions of existence that are ontologically real and that they often can withstand the test of consensual validation. (page 271)
... When we are involved in systematic self-exploration or spiritual practice, it is important to avoid the pitfall of making a particular deity opaque and seeing it as the ultimate cosmic force rather than a window into the Absolute.
Mistaking a specific archetypal image for the ultimate source of creation or for its only true representation leads to idolatry, a divisive and dangerous mistake widespread in the histories of religions and cultures. It might unite the people who share the same belief, but sets this group against another one that has chosen a different representation of the divine. They might then try to convert others or conquer and eliminate them. By contrast, genuine religion is universal, all-inclusive, and all-encompassing. It has to transcend specific culture-bound archetypal images and focus on the ultimate source of all forms. The most important question in the world of religion is thus the nature of the supreme principle in the universe. (page 271)
Experience of the Supreme Cosmic Principle
Individuals involved in systematic self-exploration with the use of holotropic states repeatedly describe this process as a philosophical and spiritual quest. This inspired me to search the records from psychedelic and holotropic sessions, as well as reports from people who were undergoing spiritual emergency, for experiences that would convey the sense that his quest reached its goal, its final destination. I found out that people who have the experience of the Absolute that fully satisfies their spiritual longing typically do not see any specific figurative images. When they feel that they have attained the goal of their mystical and philosophical quest, their descriptions of the supreme principle are highly abstract and strikingly similar.
Those who report such an ultimate revelation show quite remarkable agreement in describing the experiential characteristics of this state. They report that the experience of the Supreme involved transcendence of all the limitations of the analytical mind, all rational categories, and all the constraints of ordinary logic. This experience was not bound by the usual limitations of three-dimensional space and linear time, as we know them from everyday life. It also contained all conceivable polarities in an inseparable amalgam and thus transcended dualities of any kind.
Time after time, people compared the Absolute to a radiant source of light of unimaginable intensity, through they emphasized that it also differed in some significant aspects from any form of light that we know in the material world. To describe the Absolute as light, as much as it seems appropriate in a certain sense, entirely misses some of its essential characteristics, particularly in the fact that it also is an immense and unfathomable field of consciousness endowed with infinite intelligence and creative power. Another attribute that is regularly mentioned is an exquisite sense of humor ("cosmic humor").
The supreme cosmic principle can be experienced in two different ways. Sometimes, all personal boundaries dissolve or are drastically obliterated and we completely merge with the divine source, becoming one with it and indistinguishable from it. Other times, we maintain the sense of separate identity, assuming the role of an astonished observer who is witnessing, as if from the outside, the mysterium tremendum of existence. Or, like some mystics, we might feel the ecstasy of an enraptured lover experiencing the encounter with the Beloved. Spiritual literature of all ages abounds in descriptions of both types of experiences of the divine.
The encounter with Absolute Consciousness or identification with it is not the only way to experience the supreme principle in the cosmos or the ultimate reality. The second type of experience that seems to satisfy those who search for ultimate answers is particularly surprising, since it has no specific content. It is the identification with Cosmic Emptiness and Nothingness described in the mystical literature as the Void. ...
When we reach experiential identification with the Absolute, we realize that our own being is ultimately commensurate with the entire cosmic network, with all of existence. The recognition of our own divine nature, our identity with the cosmic source, is the most important discovery we can make during the process of deep exploration. ... (pages 273-276)
Chapter Nine. Consciousness Evolution and Human Survival: Transpersonal Perspective on the Global Crisis
Psychospiritual Roots of the Global Crisis
The task of imbuing humanity with an entirely different set of values and goals might appear too unrealistic and utopian to offer any real hope. Considering the paramount role of violence and greed in human history, the possibility of transforming modern humanity into a species of individuals capable of peaceful coexistence with their fellow men and women regardless of race, color, and religious or political conviction, let alone with other species, certainly does not seem very plausible. We are facing the necessity to instill humanity with profound ethical values, sensitivity to the needs of others, acceptance of voluntary simplicity, and a sharp awareness of ecological imperatives. At first glance, such a task appears too fantastic even for a science-fiction movie.
However, although serious and critical, the situation might not be as hopeless as it appears. After more than forty years of intensive study of holotropic states of consciousness, I have come to the conclusion that the theoretical concepts and practical approaches developed by transpersonal psychology, a discipline that is trying to integrate spirituality with the new paradigm emerging in Western science, could help alleviate the crisis we are all facing. These observations suggest that radical psychospiritual transformation of humanity is not only possible, but is already underway. The question is only whether it can be sufficiently fast and extensive to reverse the current self-destructive trend of modern humanity. (pages 296-297)
We seem to be involved in a dramatic race for time that has no precedent in the entire history of humanity. What is at stake is nothing less than the future of life on this planet. If we continue the old strategies which in their consequences are clearly extremely self-destructive, it is unlikely that the human species will survive. However, if a sufficient number of people undergo a process of deep inner transformation, we might reach a level of consciousness evolution when we deserve the proud name we have given to species: homo sapiens. (page 324)
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