Leonardo da Vinci, Studies of Embryos
The first nine months of our life are spent in water, where we are surrounded by darkness. We have no conscious memory of that period. Subconsciously, we crave to relive that time later on in life; we want to reconnect to that primordial feeling of bliss whether in the arms of a loved one or swimming in a crystal clear lake or maybe just contemplating a beautiful landscape.
The fourth chapter of Grof’s report on his LSD research is dedicated to perinatal experiences. According to his findings, it is possible to relive this period of our life. These experiences are situated on the threshold between the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. They consist in subjects reliving the life in the womb followed by their own biological birth and the accompanying feelings of physical pain, agony, dying and symbolic death/rebirth.
Grof stresses that one LSD session is not enough to reach the perinatal depths. The initial sessions usually consisted in reliving personal traumas but once these were integrated, subjects opened to the deeper layers of their psyche. All the people who reached the perinatal level reported deep and life-changing spiritual realizations. Grof emphasizes that reliving their own birth transformed everybody, even “hard-core materialists, positivistically-oriented scientists, skeptics and cynics, and uncompromising atheists and antireligious crusaders such as the Marxist philosophers.”
Grof classified the fetus experiences during pregnancy and delivery into four perinatal matrices. Here is a brief summary containing some key words characterizing them:
Basic Perinatal Matrix I (BPM I):
realistic recollections of life in a womb, either positive or negative: oceanic ecstasy, cosmic unity, visions of paradise or the experience of attempted abortions, emotional upheavals, unpleasant tastes, feelings of being poisoned; related transpersonal experiences: racial or evolutionary memories, past incarnation experiences;
Basic Perinatal Matrix II (BPM II):
immense suffering, unbearable situation that will never end, images of hell, guilt, inferiority complex, epidemics, diseases, absurdity of life, feelings of oppression, trouble breathing;
Basic Perinatal Matrix III (BPM III):
borderline between pain and pleasure, volcanic ecstasy, vibrant colours, explosions, carnivals, murders, orgies, bloody sacrifice;
Basic Perinatal Matrix IV (BPM IV):
decompression, expansion of space, visions of gigantic halls, rebirth, redemption, sensory enhancement.
I would like to focus today on LSD experiences related to the first Basic Perinatal Matrix, i.e. Primal Union with the Mother.
When talking about good womb experiences during LSD sessions, subjects invariably reported blissful, oceanic state of consciousness. They felt peace, serenity, bliss, melted ecstasy, sacredness, an experience of pure being and timelessness. They described the experience as ineffable and impossible to put into words. In this state they perceived the world as a safe, benevolent place. Evil seemed insignificant. What also happened quite frequently was spontaneous regression into historical times, identification with groups of people, for example American Indians, or identification with species of plants, animals, and, amazingly enough, feeling one with with galaxies, solar systems and stars. Visions of gods and archetypes were quite common:
… I became the entire universe; I was witnessing the spectacle of the macrocosm with countless pulsating and vibrating galaxies and was it at the same time. … For the first time, I was experiencing the universe for what it really is – an unfathomable mystery, a divine play of energy. Everything in this universe appeared to be conscious. … I became fish swimming in crystal-clear waters, butterflies floating in mountain meadows, and seagulls gliding by the ocean.
Some subjects reported reliving events from previous incarnations. I am going to discuss this in more depth in a future post dedicated to transpersonal experiences in LSD sessions. One person reported a startling realization:
During a session in which he alternately experienced episodes of “good” and “bad” womb, he felt that he developed new insights into the understanding of demons from several cultures. … He suddenly saw a striking relationship between the state of mind of the Buddha sitting on the lotus in deep meditation and that of an embryo in a good womb. .. It seemed as if elements of bad karma entered his present life in the form of disturbances of his embryonic existence …
image via http://www.redbubble.com/people/danita22/works/9919784-buddha-ocean-evening
Interestingly, memories of life in the womb opened the gates to memories of other blissful moments of subjects’ lives. They recalled happy love relationships, encounters with beauty, nature or art. It seems that one of our chief motivations as human beings is to experience as adults that feeling of absolute fulfillment and oceanic ecstasy we felt in our mother’s womb.
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Cartography of the Deep Human Psyche (1)
Cartography of the Deep Human Psyche (2)
I believe that the experience that drives me to seek further is the feeling of connection. When my friend and I are in sacred space, we feel a deep sense of connection. When we do bonding therapy the physical and emotional change is clearly visible.
The spiritual is only manifested for humans in the emotional and mental. I believe the place where we lack is in the emotional, which then skews the mental.
The experiences Grof talks about are chemically induced and therefore not natural. I leave it to others to decide if they are the deeper unconscious speaking or not.
Thanks for a wonder full post.
I completely agree and thank you for this comment. Emotional connection is always a cure for our modern feelings of alienation.
Back in the 1980s in America re-birthing became the rage in New Age circles. Through intensive breathing one could regress and identify negative pervasve thoughts that were obstacles to health and well-being. This reminds me of re-birthing to a degree. Are you familiar with this technique?
Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of it. I wonder if it is worth doing.
I had tried it with mixed results but I think it is worth trying. I do well with techniques that get me out of my head for a while.
I have done a version of breath work for about 3 years now. It is has changed my life and has changed the life of the man who I do the work with every week. I think breath work can get us in touch with our bodies, where our deep seated emotional conflicts are stored. I am not saying it is the answer, just one that works for me.
Grof has a technique which he teaches still. He is not the main faclitator, but he still participates in it. There is a workshop coming up soon I think in Massachusetts.
I am a huge believer in both breathwork and a practice called “bonding” therapy.
I really appreciate this blog Monika!
Thank you, Jim. I appreciate your feedback and support. Holotropic breathing is what Grof replaced lsd therapy with. I hope you’re going to blog about bonding therapy – it sure sounds interesting.
thank you Shoe 1000 for sharing you rpositive results. I think that the breath is essential to transformation through meditation, yoga, etc but am not very knowledgeable because I lack the experience necessary to make an accurate assessment. We keep seeing that the old ways are usually the best 🙂
Awesome post Monika! Can’t wait to read the rest. I am curious as to the good and bad womb experiences…I didn’t get that part I think. Do we all have good and bad experiences in the womb? Or some have good and others bad?
Trying to imagine what it would be like to participate in such experiments!!
I think we all have both good and bad womb experiences, ranging from mild bad (food that disagrees with us) to awful. He does not say it explicitly, but I think good ones must be dominant. Glad you enjoyed it!
This is a most interesting read. There are many substances that have spiritual and visionary effects including LSD. Your source for this material produces some detailed results from his work and is well worth the read. Thank you for bringing it here for us to ponder. Eddie
Thank you, I really value your opinion. And I really think it’s worth looking at the results of this research no matter what we think of LSD.
University days and youth made LSD a curious addition to classes and personal research.
Yes, there were legends circling in my Department of Psychology about various professors and their experiments.
I would also assert that these substances could assist people in tapping into the collective unconscious, but again, one does so at a grave risk. It’s easy to fling open the doors of perception using substances, but then they ultimately rob you of your ability to do so later on. Also, there is the risk of psychological damage. True story: I had a friend who ingested mushrooms and then ate a live guinea pig so that he could “break on through to the other side” and see Jim Morrison. He committed suicide shortly afterwards.
My God, that is truly shocking. I appreciate you sharing it.
This is fascinating. I have no recollection of womb experiences and would love to explore that. For those who think chemicals produce ‘unreal’ experiences…well, everything about the body is chemistry. The active ingredient of a lot of mind-altering drugs is DMT (spoken about a lot in the book and the video called The Spirit Molecule), and DMT is a substance found in the human brain and is linked to our perception. The levels in our bodies is linked to the dimensions that we perceive. One level determines only mundane three-dimensional earthly experiences, while other levels show a person to be flexible in their perceptions (psychics, intuitives etc). So no, chemicals do not give us an unnatural experience. They give us a perfectly natural experience that we otherwise might not have had we not elevated our levels of DMT. So if you feel inclined to, research DMT. Graham Hancock does a lot of research on it. There is the book and the video on youtube called The Spirit Molecule, and so much more. I’d love to read your thoughts on it.
I promise to watch it, you are the second person who has recommended this to me. I am also not into these rigid dichotomies: real, unreal, etc. I love Grof’s book and his findings are fascinating to me and archetypally resonant.
Fascinating stuff – wonderul article. Had a bit of a loose association to this excellent video – thought you might enjoy –
Mother Earth. Love it! Thank you very much.
‘All I ever wanted to know about perinatal experiences’ 🙂 Interesting next chapter on Grof Monika, I find the way he gathered and sceduled the experiences intriguing. Very special collections of experiences and emotions.
Good there’s eough warning against romanticising LSD: could even Leave Someone Dead.
Yeah, I also hope that now we have all the ethical bases covered. The book is so dense – there is so much interesting stuff there!
beautiful connection – the blissful state of an embrio and being in the arms of a loved one / floating in a lake / beautiful scenary / the buddha’s meditation – yes i see it
Thank you for reading, Indrajit.
Great and interesting post.
I know someone who went through the ‘being birthed’ experience whilst taking a bath, having done some drugs (which he did fairly regularly so i guess doors in the brain had been opened!) It freaked him out so much he had to get out of the bath. I guess it would, on your own and in an ‘alternative’ state! 🙂
As for drugs… I believe (though have no evidence to back this up, just my own interpretation/theory) that drugs open a gateway in the brain, an unused bit, and if the drugs are ‘used’ in the right way they can help to activate this part of the brain… so the experience on drugs is remembered, and the experience can then be used without drugs.
It’s just a shame the way our culture uses drugs… imagine if we had more awareness….
I love your balanced opinion concerning drugs. Thank you very much for sharing it!
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