Cartography of the Deep Human Psyche (3)

Perhaps it’s true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house—the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture—must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story.

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.

George Santayana

The initial mutual fascination between Jung and Freud and their subsequent acrimonious break-up is well-documented. I see their approaches as complementary rather than mutually exclusive. While Freud dealt with the individual unconscious, Jung went a step further and proposed the existence of the collective, transpersonal unconscious, a repository of archetypes, myths and universal patterns. Jung never denied the existence of the individual unconscious or the importance of human sexuality. He acknowledged that without healing individual traumas the soul cannot make a step further towards the realm of the transpersonal.

The first threshold crossed by subjects taking part in an LSD procedure is a confrontation with their personal unconscious in the form of significant memories and traumas, emotional issues, unresolved conflicts and repressed material from their lives. The following words of Grof would probably act like balm on Freud’s soul:

… the observations from LSD psychotherapy could be considered to be laboratory proof of the basic Freudian premises. The psychosexual dynamics and the fundamental conflicts of the human psyche as described by Freud are manifested with unusual clarity and vividness even in sessions of naïve subjects, who have never been analyzed…

It is important to point out that Grof’s research was carried out in the communist Czechoslovakia, where Freudian psychoanalysis was banned from mainstream culture. Therefore the subjects cannot have internalized Freud’s theories before the sessions. Another significant psychoanalytic finding of Grof’s is something he called Systems of Condensed Experience (COEX Systems). To me they show how our memories are constituted and maybe how memory itself works.

COEX systems are individual memories from different periods of life that form clusters around a common theme. The deepest layers of such memories are core events that often took place in very early childhood. Similar experiences in later periods build layer upon layer on the original (core) event/memory. A typical COEX constellation may contain experiences of emotional deprivation or rejection that repeat throughout the individual’s life. There is a powerful emotional charge attached to such strings of memories, an activation of one memory seems to trigger a chain reaction and the activation of the whole COEX. A personality can contain an indeterminate number of such systems, which may condense either pleasant or unpleasant emotional experiences. Here is an example of a core experience:

… Richard suddenly regressed deeply into infancy and experienced himself as a one-year old baby swaddled in a blanket and lying on the grass by a field, while adults were harvesting grain. He saw a cow approaching him, graze in the immediate proximity of his head, and then lick his face several times with her huge, rough tongue. During the reliving of this episode, the head of the cow seemed gigantic and almost filled the session room. Richard found himself gazing helplessly into the monstrous salivating mouth of the cow and felt her saliva flowing all over his face. After having relived the happy ending of this situation … Richard felt enormous relief and a surge of vitality and activity. …


Marc Chagall, I and the Village

The basic COEX theme of this experience was being helpless and at a mercy of a destructive external force. Prior to his LSD sessions Richard had suffered from severe depression, anxiety and various psychosomatic symptoms. He had been unable to form a long-lasting relationship. After reliving the COEX experiences in an LSD session, his symptoms disappeared and he appeared to be healed.

The onset of COEX activation during an LSD session is heralded by a vision that subjects compare to a flood or a whirlpool. They get surrounded by a motley of seemingly random “amorphous mixture fragments of human or animal bodies, portions of a landscape, pieces of furniture” that in fact are sensory fragments of the COEX experience. While reading this I immediately thought of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, which shows the trauma of war and civilians suffering as a result of an air attack. In a great BBC series called Power of Art, which I cannot recommend enough, Simon Schama says this about Guernica:

Instead of a laboured literal commentary on German warplanes, Basque civilians and incendiary bombs, Picasso connects with our worst nightmares. He’s saying here’s where the world’s horror comes from; the dark pit of our psyche.


Like Proust’s madeleine, a seemingly trivial object can transport s back into the heart of a memory. Another indication of an emerging COEX is an incessant repetition of the same words and sentences. I could not help but thinking how dismembered our memories are, how fragmented. Re-membering and reliving seem to be reintroducing wholeness back. All the lost memory fragments have to be mined and excavated and thanks to such archeology of memories our souls can find peace again

I was fascinated to read the accounts of early childhood memories full of astonishing details and accompanied by detailed realistic representations of the setting and the events that occurred. What that shows is that in the deep recesses of our memory everything is stored and our conscious lives, our actions and reactions, are rounded, shaped and guided by a multitude of unconscious memories. The researchers were also astonished by these findings and therefore they tried to verify the authenticity of the relived memories, which is described here:

Dana … relived in one of her LSD sessions a traumatic episode from infancy that she tentatively located at the end of her first year of life. She described in great detail the interior of the room where this event happened to the point of being able to draw the elaborate pattern of embroidery on the bedspread and tablecloth. Dana’s mother was independently asked to give her description of the room in question. When confronted with the material from the patient, she was absolutely astonished by the accuracy of the account concerning the traumatic event as well as its physical setting.

But what does reliving a traumatic event under LSD really mean? It means assuming the roles of all participants in the COEX event. For example, if a subject was a victim of an assault he or she must relive both the role of the victim and that of the aggressor. For a disturbing moment a victim has to identify with an aggressor. Only by experiencing the event from all the possible perspectives can our soul make peace with it.


Related posts:

Cartography of the Deep Human Psyche (1)

Cartography of the Deep Human Psyche (2)

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50 Responses to Cartography of the Deep Human Psyche (3)

  1. ptero9 says:

    “For example, if a subject was a victim of an assault he or she must relive both the role of the victim and that of the aggressor. For a disturbing moment a victim has to identify with an aggressor. Only by experiencing the event from all the possible perspectives can our soul make peace with it.”
    Pretty amazing stuff here. I think this goes a long way to suggest that there is potential for healing in the LSD experience and how it comes about.
    I have come to think that for all of us, our life’s work circles around recreating primary psychic experiences which are partly built on impressions from our early life, but anything we experience touches the archetypal universals that Freud, Jung and many others spoke about.
    What we call criminals, are perhaps people who recycle some crime, or wound in which their soul repeats, provoking them back to revision the scene into its essence, which is not only subjective or personal, but one we all share in, the realm of archetypal powers, or the gods.
    On the surface, we want to separate the victim from the offender, and use this separation to reinforce an idea about ourselves as being innocent. but when many studies show that most, if not all offenders were victims themselves, it begs us to look deeper and wider.
    Yes, innocents are unfairly wounded, no doubt, but what must we know and understand about the relationship between our personal subjective experiences and the archetypal forces that live through us that can bring healing to both sides of the wounded,- victim and offender, in which all of us, sooner or later share a role in?


    • Yes, my thoughts exactly, Debra. This theme of multiple perspectives is going to appear again in the part where the subjects relive their past lives. I also was thinking of how astrology fits into this, how we need to acknowledge that a traumatic event is reflected in our natal chart and its planetary constellation.


      • ptero9 says:

        The astrological angle is intriguing and one that I am not as familiar with, although I have spent some time studying natal charts and have had my own done.
        I look forward to hearing more about the relationship between natal charts and primary life events Monika.
        Another related angle might perhaps be near death experiences which I was also reminded of by reading your post.


      • I was doing a chart recently of a person with a childhood trauma accompanied by a Pluto transit. It was reactivated on subsequent Pluto transits. We are bound to repeat history. As much as I sympathise with all victims, they need to ‘own’ their planetary energies, to acknowledge their own shadow side.


      • ptero9 says:

        Wow, that is pretty amazing about the Pluto transit. So, all I’ve ever had read was my natal chart, perhaps I should have the transits mapped?
        Yeah, I think life is better and more peaceful when we can find ways to forgive and heal and to break the cycles of victim/offender, whatever one is a victim or offender to.


      • Also progressions can be pretty amazing. Planets in a natal chart also form clusters, so a transit or a progression can hit a few of them at the same time, activating what Grof called the COEX.


      • ptero9 says:

        K, I think I am going to have to read up on Astrology. Perhaps you can recommend some good reading Monika?


      • But what would you like to read about? There is a great explanation how progressed charts work here:
        My favourite astrological authors are Liz Greene and Dane Rudhyar but they do not explain the technicalities… Stephen Arroyo is excellent also, I started my adventure with astrology from his books.


      • ptero9 says:

        Oh great! This is a start. Thank you! 🙂


  2. shoe1000 says:

    What a wonderful piece.

    As a student of what we call “psychology,” I entertain all thoughts as in the realm of possible except the last two sentences. “For a disturbing moment a victim has to identify with an aggressor. Only by experiencing the event from all the possible perspectives can our soul make peace with it.”

    As a person who has been affected by those “Deep seated,…,emotional conflicts that persist below the level of consciousness,” I dont believe it is possible to put myself in a position to “identify with an aggressor,” at any level except in the mind, when I am in that place where I am re-sensing those events. If I am only thinking about it, I am not re-sensing it.

    There are also many ways to get to those places where the healing can take place and I think, having experienced LSD myself, that ingesting it is not the best way to get there.

    I really liked your piece



    • Hi Jim, thank you very much for your thoughts. I basically just related what Grof wrote along with some personal associations of mine. In the first post of the series I addressed the ethical issues and voiced my concerns about lsd. A lot of people commented on that post and most of them agreed that there are other ways of accessing the deep psyche.
      My best,


      • shoe1000 says:

        Thanks Monika!!
        I have never seen it spelled with a K
        I will read the other posts. Then I will be more informed. I love your blog!
        Grof is a very interesting character. I will talk more later about him.
        Take care!!


      • Thanks 🙂 It is common to spell it with a K where I was born (Poland). Hope to hear more from you, thanks for the nice words.


  3. Very, very interesting!! The ultimate cathartic method. Next time I try this kind of substances I’ll try to remember this post and go really deep on my childhood memories, let’s see what’s there. Thanks for this post, once again!


  4. In “Cosmos and Psyche” Richard Tarnas discovered something of interest here- epochal shifts in psychological understanding related to cycles of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Freud being linked more in timing (and archetypal meaning) with the alignment of Uranus and Pluto (1896-1907) which connects the pub of “The Interpretaion of Dreams” up to Jung’s “Symbols of Transformation,” which I happened to look at recently and seems very Freud-influenced in its initial draft. On p. 362 Tarnas writes: “By contrast, Jung’s more transpersonal, mythic, symbolical, and spiritually oriented psychology, including his early studies in astrology and esoteric traditions, as well as his seminal insights into the coniunctio oppositorum (conjunction of opposites) and the transcendent function, received its most significant impetus when Uranus was in close alignment exclusively with Neptune (1908-18).” I’ve been thinking of writing about this for awhile, and may in the near future as i’m thinking about these cycles, but thought i’d share this here. Thanks again for writing about Grof- you are providing a nice introduction that perhaps I will eventually make time to explore in more depth. Today’s entry seems very Plutonic in a Freudian manner.


    • There is astrological gold in this topic and it would be wonderful if you decided to write about it. Also the charts of the two gentlemen and how they interplayed are fascinating. I think Jung never disowned Freudian thought, he just built on it whereas Freud cast Jung out and never looked back. And yes, today’s post is very Plutonic, like the whole psychoanalysis.


  5. Soul Fields says:

    I´m admiring your skillful writing again, how you put insights etc together. And more.

    I´ve experienced myself and seen others experiencing both gradual shifts and instantaneous more or less permanent shifts (this is shared among other things from an energy healing perspective). For the instantaneous shifts I believe there has been a readiness of consciousness for them to take place. More is not always better, gradual integrating has its importance as well. And on the other hand our believes of things needing to be challenging affect from their part, too. I think the phrase “complexity in simplicity, simplicity in complexity” applies here as well. Generally spoken human psyche is so delicate, that I personally wouldn´t allow an access to it just to anyone or anything (this I´m speaking only on my own behalf, not moralizing, or the kind).


    • I agree with you 100%. An “instantaneous” healing is always preceded by incubation, the individual needs to be ready for it. I am also against forcing anything to happen too soon, being too directive as a therapist or healer.


      • Soul Fields says:

        You verbalize that so well. 🙂

        “…a victim has to identify with an aggressor. ” Could this be for example compared to forgiveness process and again – for example – by understanding how the aggressor became an aggressor (like by taking a look at his/her childhood), and so on…I mean forgiveness (not to be forced either) as releasing of the aggressors energies being another sign of deep healing having taken place.


      • I also think forgiveness is a very important part of it. But I also like what Debra (ptero9) says above about seeing the whole scene as if with the eyes of the gods, as an archetypal drama we were part of.


  6. Soul Fields says:

    Yes, I agree. Her comment is great. There are so many ways, octaves and layers to look at it. And archetypes, myths, collective consciousness shift and evolve as we (humanity) shift and evolve. (Note: I may use the words like archetype more loosely that those of you who have specialized on the subject.)


  7. Don says:

    “On the surface, we want to separate the victim from the offender, and use this separation to reinforce an idea about ourselves as being innocent. but when many studies show that most, if not all offenders were victims themselves, it begs us to look deeper and wider.”

    I warm to this statement by pter09. This deeper and wider look takes a monumental shift in consciousness. In the West our rugged individuality together with a shallow consciousness arising out of our preoccupation with externals, has constantly militated against perceptions of our deep connectedness. Only when one is able to live and move in this kind of connectedness are we able to begin to bring victim and offender together within us. Those who are able to do this are rare human beings. I think they are the vanguard of a new humanity.

    I also found the the whole concept of a cluster of memory, or a string of memories fascinating and very enlightening. I wonder to what extent a memory is often individualized in the whole process of healing, resulting in little effect, because of it forming only a part of a whole cluster of memories that have to be dealt with.

    Loved the post – thank you.


  8. Another banquet for the soul Monika! Did you know that I wrote a short story God in Small Things just a short while before starting my blog? I like the notion of looking at material from every angle, just like in some forms of dreamwork. While at the bookstore today, I found a copy of The Synchronicity Key and “randomly” picked a page to read. It opened to a discussion of Jung’s belief that Astrology was meant to explain the human psyche. I thought this was very cool!


  9. MartsArts Poetrypictures says:

    Don’t try this yourself at home! 😉

    Very interesting followup about the ideas of Grof Monika.
    But to be a bit serious about my first sentence: I think most ill making trauma’s are based on old experiences connected with very bad feelings, mostly with great fear as a core. So I think that only reliving these experiences without deep relabeling of this bad feelings to better ones won’t heal you. Maybe even make it worse by adding another reinforcing experience. This might also explain the ‘bad trips’ that some people might have when using LSD.

    I don’t read anything about this kind of conditions in your post. What do you think and what does Grof say about it?

    One other reaction about the image of layers with this concept of COEX: layers I associate with kind of well-ordered ‘sediments’. But in my imagination of this grown old traumas I see more something alive, altering and moving. With wounds and scars and strange things growing on wrong places. Maybe clusters of bacteries, virusses and fungi too, with acid forms and colours. Or a living, awfully moving 3D cluster of Guernica animals, people and things…
    No, I did not use any .,.. 🙂 But too neat this ‘layered’ COEX idea in my opinion.

    Looking forward to the next episode (you should start using ‘cliffhangers’ ).


    • Cliffhangers, haha. Next on the saga the perinatal experiences. I think this is what made Grof famous – his subjects reliving their own birth during the session.
      Thanks for voicing your concerns regarding reliving of the traumas. Maybe I should have mentioned it. Grof made sure that each session finished with a positive COEX experience, he used music, gentle touch, etc, for it. I also agree that traumas can be like monsters, parasites feasting on our system.


  10. Have not had a chance to read Part 1, 2 or 3 Monica. So sorry been busy with school work. However I read some of the comments and I have tried hallucinogens. Really broadens ones perspective on reality.

    Much love~


  11. I re-read this post several times, and I think your point is an important one– the aggressor’s perspective, if a rational one, can be of real value to one’s own self understanding. if not rational, then one can learn, at least, how to de-personalize the attack. very interesting post !


  12. shreejacob says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the series and it’s a lot of information to think about!
    I wonder though if there is any risk of forming addiction to the LSD in these subjects who were recruited for the test?
    Also it reminds me of those who had taken LSD “trips” advising that it should always been taken in a group with trusted friends and some who do not take it to act as “guards” just in case someone ends up having a bad trip.


  13. That’s how Tarot functions. That’s how Oracle functions. It’s meant to hit various COEX Systems. I adored this post, Monika. My favorite of the series so far.


  14. I am utterly astounded. The research and thought you put into your posts amaze me. The topic is extremely interesting! You have a way of conveying messages that I thoroughly enjoy. Great post, as always. Belinda


  15. Yaz says:

    I absolutely see that we have to identify with the aggressor in order to fully heal. This is about taking responsibility at the deepest level. Its about seeing what we are capable of ourselves and taking a whole new direction. Many would flee from this though. Its a big leap. Thanks for another great post. I just love them!


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