Cartography of the Deep Human Psyche (1)

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Gustave Doré, Paradise

In a famous remark that all professors of philosophy love to quote, A. N. Whitehead said that the development of Western philosophy is just a series of footnotes to Plato. I think understand what Whitehead was really trying to say. What he meant was that Plato was the queen bee of his field. Allow me to explain. In the course of history a few great minds are born, whose thinking is universal and all-encompassing. Their gift is a total and comprehensive vision, a breathtaking bird’s eye view over the whole universe of his or her field. The queen bee metaphor comes from Norman Davies, a great British historian, author of a total history of Europe (Europe: A History), who likened himself to the queen bee. The queen bee is the great simplificator, who brings order to the labours of the hive. Narrow specialization is a curse of our times. If the industrious worker bees completely took over, there would be no honey. It is the great visionaries, the ‘simplificators,’ the queen bees who can fertilize their fields for years to come.

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Albrecht Dürer, Venus and Cupid as the Honey Thief

Carl Gustav Jung was the queen bee of depth psychology. In an ironic quip he joked he was happy to be Jung and not a Jungian. Thousands of Jungians are still busy expanding on his work. My personal allegiance is always with Jung simply because he captures my imagination and can open my eyes with a single sentence. But there is another psychologist, who has been instrumental for me in my journey towards understanding the depths of the human psyche. It is Stanislav Grof. I have decided to start a series of posts dedicated to his findings.

He became famous for conducting research with the use of LSD, which he administered to his subjects. This was before the substance was delegalized. Now he achieves the same results, i.e. accessing the deep realms of the psyche, by means of holotropic breathwork. It is a wonderful coincidence that just as I was planning to write this, I saw a new post in one of my favourite blogs. A fellow blogger from Ecuador relates in detail his experience with taking LSD (http://thefaustorocksyeah.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/listen-to-the-colour-of-your-dreams-mi-experiencia-con-lsd/). On a personal note, I think I will never try LSD myself, there is something in my psyche that has always kept me off any kind of intoxicating substances. Alcohol, even in very small amounts, blurs my consciousness almost instantaneously. Having said that, I read Fausto’s post with vicarious fascination. During the great mysteries of Eleusis, associated with the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone, the participants probably took powerful psychoactive potion to achieve altered states of consciousness. Here are four passages from Fausto’s post (my translation):

It was the night of full moon and he was visible in all her glory; I had never seen her so bright, at times she seemed to have been shining like the sun.

I listened to colours.

What surprised me most was to see kaleidoscopic manifestations of Vishnu, Indra, Buddha and various medieval and Victorian motifs on the room’s ceiling, all truly amazing.

I also had a revelation of the origin of the universe and the origin of the idea of ​​God.

He also saw two stars on the ceiling that he identified as planets and called them “Sirius/Orion/Osiris one and two” without having any idea what that actually meant. But when he went out and looked at the real sky, those same stars were there and in the same position. I relate to this experience having had a few dreams myself, which I knew were revealing something deep to me but when I had them I had no idea what it was.

But returning to Grof, I am planning to reread his first book called Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations from LSD Research because it is the foundation of all his theories and practice. In it he focuses on a description of the various experiences manifested in the sessions. He argues that there is “a surprisingly consistent metaphysical system” that emerged from his extensive research. LSD was accidentally discovered by a Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, who later called it “my problem child.”

I must admit I am still on the fence when it comes to LSD. I was absolutely fascinated by Grof’s findings and I hope to do them justice in my subsequent posts, but there is a gnawing doubt in me and an accompanying thought that the same insights and revelations can be achieved without the aid of chemical substances. As Hofmann himself wrote:

By … a perception deepened by meditation, we can develop a new awareness of reality. This awareness could become the bedrock of a spirituality that is not based on the dogmas of a given religion, but on insights into a higher and deeper meaning. I am referring to the ability to recognize, to read, and to understand the firsthand revelations.

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Hieronymus Bosch, Antonius Altar triptych 

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62 Responses to Cartography of the Deep Human Psyche (1)

  1. Stuff Jeff Reads says:

    Consciousness-altering substances are both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, they shatter the constructed illusion which is our perceived reality and provide visions of divine origin. But there are consequences. First off, spending too much time in that mental realm, one loses the ability to function in “normal” reality. Yet there is an even more insidious side effect: reliance on chemical altering of consciousness makes it difficult to attain those mystical states without their use. Anyway, a few other writers you may want to look at: Aldous Huxley, Terence McKenna, and Carlos Castaneda. Cheers, and thanks for yet another great post.

  2. Henry Jekyll says:

    Another fascinating post Monika. The subject matter you address has catapulted your blog to one of my favorite stops during my strolls in the blogosphere. Imho, it’s time for an embrace of research into the domain of the psychedelic experience. In the US, it’s professional suicide if a researcher wishes to explore this realm. Some amazing research regarding LSD and successful treatment of chronic alcoholism was done in the 60s but that door was shut by the government very quickly. Hmmm, I often wonder why. I’ve become quite fascinated with ayahuasca lately and thinking of heading to Peru. If it ever happens I’ll definitely document my experience and share. 🙂

    • Thank you, I really appreciate your comment. As I said, psychedelics are not for me but I always read other people’s accounts with fascination. I hope the trip works out for you.

  3. Oh wow! It was a wonderful coincidence indeed! Synchronicity, perhaps? I hope my experience helps you on your research. I didn’t know about Stanislav Grof, I’m really looking forward to read your articles about him. And well, I really think we can achieve the same insights and revelations without any of this substances, like you said, dreams are powerful paths of revelations, also music; I’ve felt some of the effects of LSD and Peyote while listening to certain songs, and the insights might come while I’m reading a book or driving. The only thing that this substances does, at least for me, is ‘clicking’ something deep in yourself and connect the ideas, and bring thoughts that were deep inside your unconscious. Oh, and the hallucinations too, of course, that really is the ‘plus ultra’ of this substances.

    I personally felt ‘San Pedro’ (Andes’ Peyote) being more enjoyable and powerful than LSD, here’s the post about my experience with it, it may serve you as well: [http://thefaustorocksyeah.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/mi-experiencia-con-san-pedro-el-peyote-de-los-andes/]

    It’s always a pleasure to read you, see us on our next post!

  4. Another provocative article Monika! I have read some of Grof in graduate school when I was researching Spiritual Emergencys. He and Dr. John Weir Perry were very active in the progressive theories and alternative treatments of psychosis. Many years ago a friend took me to a workshop given by his wife ( Grof’s wife) and it involved Mandalas. I cannot recall much else about it. I am somewhat ambivalent about psychedelics also. While certain substances had produced a portal to altered states within me many moons ago, I agree with Jeff that reliance on something outside of you can hinder one’s natural abilities to access Source.

    PS I love that image!

    • Yeah, I agree with you and with Jeff, but of course it is very individual. With my overactive Neptune I just prefer to play it safe. Hofmann had a very interesting chart – he was a Capricorn with an extremely strong Neptune, full 12th house, Saturn in Pisces, etc. But somehow he did not walk to the dark side. Which image do you love – Dore?

      • Yesit was Dore, stunning! I have not tried acid myself, that would have been a dreadful mistake with my delicate circuitry, but many of my inner circle did and I was influences indirectly. With my strong Neptune I certainly dabbled with other substances but was wise enough to avoid those that were that hallucinogenic! I am franky surprised you enjoy Grof, but clearly you have a wild side Monika!

        I sometimes wish I could tolerate peyote and such, but my path seems to be finding internal portals to Mystery and Awe.

      • This reproduction hangs right next to my entrance door, I love it so much. I think I do have a wild side but I do not associate it with Grof. Jung was much wilder than him. Grof’s writing is very scholarly and disciplined. His findings concerning transpersonal psychology were incredible.

      • funny how you knew which image was my favorite? I do not know enough about Grof or Jung’s personal lives to comment, but happy to hear you have a wild side 🙂

        You might like John Weir Perry’s writing, He had met Jung and was a fan. http://spiritualrecoveries.blogspot.com/2006/05/dr-john-weir-perry-diabasis.html

        I am a huge fan of Perry and may blog about him in the future.

      • All I know is that Jung never took anything although his writing can be seen as very trippy;-) That blog sure looks interesting!

      • another reason to love Jung! I wish I was part Swiss to be more connected with him, but he lives in the collective unconscious where all is accessible 🙂

  5. james369 says:

    Dear Monika: I share your “gnawing doubt” and agree with both you and Linda that the best way inward is to use one’s natural ability, avoiding artificial inducements. I love your blog… your eloquent, scholarly yet simple manner has completely captivated me. I look forward to more! James.

    • James, that is so nice to hear. I hope ‘gnawing doubt’ is correct (as I said many times here, English is not my native language and I have occasional doubts). Thank you deeply.

  6. ptero9 says:

    I am looking forward to your posts on this topic Monika. After having dabbled with psychedelics back when I was still young and fearless, I read a lot of stuff about them, including some of Grof. It still fascinates me that TIm Leary had quite a bit of success (lowered recidivism rates) working with prison inmates using psychedelics. As much as I would caution anyone about casual use of LSD and other psychedelics, it’s a shame that the door was shut on the research and voluntary experiments that could help people.
    Michael Hollingshead, a friend of Tim Leary’s, wrote a book on his years at Millbrook, living with Leary and his guests. I believe it was called, “The Man Who Turned on the World.” I bought it in a bargain bin back in the early 80’s for a buck. Not sure if it’s still in print.
    Another take on the psychedelic craze is Alan Watt’s book, “The Joyous Cosmology,” in which he argues that there are plenty of ways to reach altered states without using drugs.
    Once you have tried them though it’s not possible for me to have an entirely objective opinion, so I respect people’s decisions and opinions. I saw first hand what a bad environment can do to fragile souls using LSD. For myself, I was not using them for entertainment or to “get high.” I do think they opened up some previously closed doors for me, but must admit that many people may not have had those doors closed anyway.
    Debra

    • Thank you for this extensive comment. That Alan Watt’s book looks like something for me. What I am taking from what you said is that when it comes to psychedelics, what counts is your intention and the initial level of spiritual maturity. Still, it is fascinating that prison inmates could have benefited from the treatment, mind-boggling!

      • ptero9 says:

        Yes, well said Monika, intention and frame of mind of the user probably has much to do with the nature of the experience.
        Joyous studies to you! 🙂

  7. Yaz says:

    Carlos Castaneda had a lot to say about ‘teacher plants’, and I took ayahuasca about five years ago. It was a very transformational experience. Difficult, but transformational. You should read Graham Hancock’s Supernatural. It has indepth info on DMT which is the main active ingredient of stuff like ayahuasca. Time Leary is a great source on LSD too.

    • I am getting so many great recommendations today. That Hancock’s book looks great. I loved his Fingerprints of the Gods. I do have adventurous readers who have direct experience in psychedelics – amazing!

  8. The subject of psychedelics in the context of therapy and consciousness has long interested me. There is reason to believe that, nearly across the board, it is simply existing chemical processes, and pathways of the psyche, that are being tricked, allowed, or forced, allowing reality to flood into consciousness. I have come to see the benefits of LSD, MDMA, Ibogaine, or any of the myriad other substances tested in controlled therapeutic settings, in a few ways:

    1. Considering ‘successful’ sessions, a minimum benefit may be illumination—a viewing of the higher life, but one that naturally fades in normal waking consciousness. The benefit then becomes clearer direction, or a brighter lit life path, to be walked in daily life. ” Where there is no vision, the people perish” -Prov. 29:18

    2. A stronger response, more rare among the accounts I’ve read, may be framed as an “octave change”: a permanent shift in the persons attitude and behavior. Even then, though, old thought schemas and physiological responses exist, less compelling on the will, but still to be managed, albeit by a more grounded and intuitively manageable set of personal skills.

    Clearly, nobody believes a few hits of acid makes us God or superman, except perhaps Timothy Leary, but it has been a proven way for some to get a GPS reading of their life, so to speak. Snap the possibilities in to focus. But a death in the family, therapy, cathartic artistic experience, or meditation can do the same for the ego-entrenched soul: offer a peak experience of consciousness, transcending ego barriers and illusory self images, to see life on the level of a god, to some degree, and for a short time.

    Jim

    • This comment is like an excellent mini-essay. I agree with you completely. Still, the research done by Grof provef to be very valuable – we learnt something about the structure of the psyche.

  9. I’m not on the fence on this issue at all. There are three facets —
    1. The more tools in your toolbox, the better. LSD is one tool, and it’s usage does not preclude any others. I think it’s a mistake to pose it in an either/or framework…. like it’s some sort of poverty complex.
    2. With that said, mastery of one tool counts for more than possession (but no mastery) of many tools. LSD and meditation are two tools. The more you are a master of either, or better, both… well, the more insight can be gleaned and the more revelation will occur as a quotidian experience.
    3. Finally, and of course, your best guide on these issues is your own body. What works for one is never to be taken as a prescription for another.

    • As a more general reflection, it has always been hard for me to have clear-cut opinions on anything. I love to gather all opinions from all sides and just look at them. I imagine this sounds horrific for Mercury in Virgo. But I like the point that you are making about tool mastery and having a rich inventory of tools.

  10. I agree with you… I’m not sure about a valid role for LSD in the self discovery process.

  11. shreejacob says:

    Ooo…I am so looking forward to the next post in this series!!
    I remember my totally failed attempt to try LSD while in college..hehehe. The gist of it was, I didn’t get to try it 😛

  12. I guess it’s hard to say what insights I would have had on my own without psychedelics, since I guess one could posit that by having done it once you are forever effected by that . . . however, I feel I nonetheless must agree with you that they are not necessary for what you are describing. At the same time, they open doors of perception for many people who otherwise may not have entered. I look forward to reading more of your writing on Grof. I have a copy of one of his papers I started to read, and then got distracted away. I hope to get back to that soon. I would also be interested to see you integrate the astrological work he did, that I believe was influenced by his working relationship with one of my astrology heroes, Richard Tarnas.

    • also thank you for sharing that Gustave Dore image- spellbindingly beautiful!

      • As I said to Linda, I have it prominently displayed in my home. I love Dore. I have been thinking about Dante recently a lot, how I need to reread Divine Comedy. It came from none other than Dan Brown and his new book Inferno, haha. Do not judge me, please, but I loved that book.

    • I actually did not know he worked with Tarnas. I encountered Grof for the first time at a lecture on New Age psychology at university. The professor was a big fan of Grof’s and he managed to mesmerize us all. Then I read Realms of the Unconscious and Beyond the Brain.

  13. Soul Fields says:

    I have strong Neptune, but have never been interested in using psychedelics. Zero lessons there for me (maybe I have already had them in past lives 😉 ). And i´m flying high during my meditation journeys. 😀 Good topic!

    • I admire you for this ability to fly high in meditation!

      • Soul Fields says:

        Thanks. To myself they are skills among other skills. And being sensitive has its challenges as well in the “day state” living. PS. I also wanted to add that I used that “flying high” humorously. That is I stay (and prefer to stay) conscious during my meditation journeys (instead of deep trance state after which one remembers nothing, or the kind).

  14. excellent and informative post as always Monika – Cannabis ( legal in India) is used during the festival of Holi when people discard their inhibitions and throw colour at each other – and more – it is a staple in Shiv temples – while i am afraid of discovering the truth through use of such substances i am told that properly practiced meditation helps you achieve such states without chemical props – and the only addictive effects are the wish to continue with mediatation.

  15. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words says:

    what a terrific informative and now a book or two to add to my growing list
    though since I am a Carl Jung groupie I will probably start with your new(to me new) ones here
    I am from the era of LSD, mushrooms, Cannabinol..ect …I was born olde I think…I was headed to Woodstock in the summer of 69, I always wondered where I would be today if I had made it…(long story while I didn’t)
    with Psilocybin mushrooms I met God so to speak…I had 3rd degree sunburn but I remember only the conversation I had with Him not the pain of my skin peeling…
    each trip I took opened another world literally…todays LSD I would be leary of it..who knows what is mixed with it..when I was in the Army, they were always asking for volunteers to be guinea pigs..
    Cannabinol…I crawled home *sigh* but what a ride…
    no I don’t advocate drug use, especially in todays world unless you are on a vision quest with someone you trust…
    peyote is on my list, I was growing it but the raccoons decided it was theirs…I wonder what they saw..heard…
    in each moment I left….I seem to absorb what i was being shown….
    I was lucky, I saw many of my friends have bad experiences, I wondered why I never had a bad one….it took me further then them for some reason…maybe because I born olde..?
    I will check out the books and Fausto’s blog…you always lead me to interesting posts !
    I have my granddaughters first football game she is playing instead of cheerleading..so I will get to the blog when I get back…
    somehow I suspect I will be thinking about your post today…for I would not be here today who I am without the experiences I have had…and your thoughts will circle around in my mind …
    Thank you for sharing such wonderful thoughts and directing me/us to aother blog and books to read…
    Take Care…You Matter…
    )0(
    maryrose

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  17. Excellent post, Monika. Clearly many people, those who experimented with psychedelics and those that did not find it of value. I did experiment. My exploration was limited to those substances that expanded the mind with joyfulness and beauty and it was when such things were still pure (early 70’s). I stopped with ease because I knew that no drug could beat the heights and depths of meditation. From that point forward, only meditation and contemplation has been my route to the inner landscape and the universal principles.

    Thus I agree with those queen bees who also could see that the most sublime is freely accessible.

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  19. Erik Andrulis says:

    Good post, and I also enjoyed the comments. So many folks have experimented with drugs so as to open portals to hidden truths, and their experiences are quite similar – notions of eternity, oneness, spiraling flow, and peace. I have not read Grof’s work so I can’t comment on it, but I will say this: Those things that folks experience are Truth as deduced from theory. That is, they are experiencing themselves. They are the key (the hallucinogen) that unlocks the door (ultimate nature of reality), and, as such, they permit themselves to see who and what they really are when they want to.

    It could be no other way, really, as God hides in plain sight as a tab in the palm, the drug in the body, the body itself, and every symbol, sign, and subject in the Universe. Peace, Ik

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  21. I too agree with you that there are ways other than drugs to help us along, and to me it may be as simple as perspective. After reading Aldous Huxley’s LSD experience I was happy to realize that what he only got to experience for a short time I live with daily. Really gives one some insight.

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