Thursday, March 09, 2006
I Grok Grof
I like reading books about psychoanalytic theory. I also enjoy books about drugs and drug experiences. Further, I'm known to peruse on occasion books about the paranormal, so of course I enjoyed Stanislav Grof's The Adventure of Self-Discovery, which combines all of the above. Grof is a proponent of a sort of modern shamanism; instead of the laborious lingual give-and-take of traditional psychoanalysis, he proposes dosing patients up with hallucinogens like LSD or ketamine and supervising them as they trip their asses off. During these hallucinatory settings, sitters and therapists coax patients through their journeys and document their experiences. Grof claims his method can work out much more negative emotional baggage in three sessions than typical analysis can in years.
Because of drug war hysteria and consequent prohibition of lysergic acid and psilocybin derivatives, Grof and his crew at Johns Hopkins and the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center have developed other, more legal means of altering consciousness (music, hyperventilation, meditation techniques), and his book is a catalog of recurring themes and images from these altered states and an attempt to classify them.
I'm sold--Grof comes out of the Jungian school by way of Wilhelm Reich and Paramahansa Yogananda, and documents a lot of extraordinary synchronistic and telepathic occurences. Particularly great are the paintings of patients as they work out traumatic birth canal memories and chakra blockages. A painter named Guenn Eona Nimue made spectacular drawings of archetypal entities she encountered during "a powerful spontaneous inner process." Whether or not you think these are transpersonal beings from another plane of existence, or merely the spontaneous creations of a disordered individual, reading about them is fascinating. Grof is mostly careful to temper his New-Aginess with Science; his book suffers during those few bits where he attempts to warn analysts about demonic possession and aliens and telekinesis--stuff he thinks might happen but which he's never witnessed personally in his practice. Stick to what you know, Stanislav--that shit's weird enough!
I like the way Grof grounds his theories in the old--shamanistic and esoteric practises and kundalini techniques--and the new, including quantum physics and the holographic model of the universe (he mentions Einstein's enthusiasm for Jung's ideas about consciousness underpinning all matter, for example). Grof is as learned as Ken Wilbur but far less demanding. Worth a read.