ABSTRACT: The two most powerful psychological
forces in human history have been without doubt violence and greed. However,
the current global situation has amplified the consequences involved. More
people were killed in the last hundred years than have existed from the
dawn of humanity up to the last century. We have the dubious privilege of
being the first species in natural history that has achieved the capacity
to eradicate itself and destroy in the process all life on this planet. Yet
the current global crisis is of a psychospiritual nature, and it cannot be
resolved without a radical inner transformation of humanity on a large scale.
While this would seem a hopeless task, the recent theoretical concepts and
practical approaches from a number of new-paradigm sources offer promising
new strategies, which fall into the following five categories: development
of a new image of the Universe and of a more comprehensive understanding
of human nature and of the psyche; new understanding of the roots of malignant
aggression and human violence; new insights into the nature of insatiable
greed; experiential approaches facilitating positive personal transformation
and consciousness evolution; and transpersonal psychology, consciousness
research, and the global crisis.
It has become increasingly clear that consciousness
is not a product of the physiological processes in the brain but is a primary
attribute of existence. In the last analysis, the individual psyche of each
of us is commensurate with the totality of existence; the deepest nature of
humanity is not bestial, but divine.
Malignant aggression does not reflect true human
nature; it is connected with a domain of unconscious, perinatal dynamics that
separates us from our deeper identity. Those who initiate war activities and
violence in general are typically substituting external targets for elements
in their own psyches, which should properly be faced in personal self-exploration.
The circumstances of birth play an important role in creating a disposition
to violence and self-destructive tendencies or to loving behavior and healthy
interpersonal relationships; thus changing birth practices to kinder and
gentler ones would have a huge impact on the degree of violence acted out
in the world.
Perinatal sources of greed lie in a feeling of
dissatisfaction and discomfort with the present situation, whatever it might
be. Like the child stuck in the birth canal, the individual feels the need
to get to a better situation that seems to lie ahead, resulting in a "rat-race"
strategy of existence which is incapable of delivering happiness. Transpersonal
sources of greed lie in our separation from our true identity with the Divine,
resulting in a craving for substitute satisfactions or surrogates—Atman projects.
However, hope lies in deep experiential approaches
that facilitate personal transformation through psychospiritual death/rebirth
and connection with the memories of positive postnatal or prenatal memories.
Such approaches have consistently resulted in the emergence of deep spirituality
of a universal and all-encompassing nature and a
corresponding development of deep humanitarian and ecological concerns in
The current global situation has exteriorized
many of the essential themes of the perinatal dynamics. If we continue to
act out the problematic destructive and self-destructive tendencies originating
in the depths of the unconscious, we will undoubtedly destroy ourselves and
the life on this planet. However, if we succeed in internalizing this process
on a large enough scale, it might result in an evolutionary progress that
can take us as far beyond our present condition as we now are from primates.
Thus, it is essential to spread the information about these possibilities
for transformation and consciousness evolution and get enough people personally
interested in pursuing them. We seem to be involved in a dramatic race for
time that has no precedent in the entire history of humanity.
Human History: Past, Present,
The two most powerful psychological forces in human history have been
without doubt violence and greed. The amount and degree of atrocities that
have been committed throughout ages in various countries of the world—many
of them in the name of God—is truly unimaginable and indescribable. We can
think here of the countless Christians, sacrificed in Roman arenas to provide
a highly sought-after spectacle for the masses; many hundreds of thousands
of victims of the medieval Inquisition, who were tortured, killed, and burned
in the autos-da-fé; the mass slaughters on the sacrificial altars
of the Aztecs; and the millions of soldiers and civilians killed in wars
and revolutions of all times.
Genghis Khan’s hordes sweeping through Asia, killing,
pillaging, and burning villages; Alexander the Great’s army conquering all
the countries lying between Macedonia and India; the amazing spread of Islam
by sword and fire; the expansion of the Roman Empire; the Crusades; the ventures
of Cortez and Pizarro; the colonialism of Great Britain and other European
countries; and the Napoleonic wars—all these are examples of unbridled violence
and insatiable greed.
This trend has continued in an unmitigated fashion
in the twentieth century. Historically, more people were killed in the last
hundred years than have existed from the dawn of humanity up to the last century.
A total of twenty-million men and women were killed on the battlefields of
World War II, and an equal number as a consequence of the wars off the battlefield.
The expansionism of Nazi Germany and the horrors
of the Holocaust, Stalin’s domination of Eastern Europe and his Gulag Archipelago,
the civil terror in Communist China and in the South American dictatorships,
the atrocities and genocide committed by the Chinese in Tibet, the cruelties
of the South African Apartheid, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and the recent
bloodshed in Yugoslavia and Rwanda are just a few salient examples of the
senseless human slaughter we have witnessed during the last fifty years.
Human greed has also found new, less violent forms
of expression in the philosophy and strategy of capitalist economy, emphasizing
increase of the Gross National Product and "unlimited growth," reckless plundering
of nonrenewable natural resources, encouraging conspicuous consumption,
and practicing "planned obsolescence." Moreover, much of this wasteful economic
policy that has disastrous ecological consequences has been oriented toward
production of weapons of increasing destructive power.
In the past, violence and greed had tragic consequences
for the individuals involved in the internecine historical events and for
their immediate families. However, they did not threaten the evolution of
the human species as a whole and certainly did not represent a danger for
the ecosystem and for the biosphere of the planet. Even after the most violent
wars, Nature was able to recycle all the aftermath and completely recover
within a few decades. This situation has changed very radically in the course
of the twentieth century. Rapid technological progress, exponential growth
of industrial production, massive population explosion, and particularly the
discovery of atomic energy have forever changed the equations involved.
In the course of this century, we have often witnessed
more major scientific and technological breakthroughs within a single decade,
or even a single year, than people in earlier historical periods experienced
in an entire century. However, these astonishing intellectual successes have
brought modern humanity to the brink of global catastrophe, since they were
not matched by a comparable growth of emotional and moral maturity. We have
the dubious privilege of being the first species in natural history that has
achieved the capacity to eradicate itself and destroy in the process all life
on this planet.
The intellectual history of humanity is one of incredible
triumphs. We have been able to learn the secrets of nuclear energy, send spaceships
to the moon and all the planets of the solar system, transmit sound and color
pictures all over the globe and across cosmic space, and crack the DNA code
and start genetic engineering. At the same time, these superior technologies
are being used in the service of primitive emotions and instinctual impulses
that are not very different from those that motivated people of the Stone
Unimaginable sums of money have been wasted in the
insanity of the arms race, and the use of a minuscule fraction of the existing
arsenal of atomic weapons could destroy all life on Earth. Many millions of
people have been killed in the two world wars and in countless other violent
confrontations occurring for ideological, racial, religious, or economic reasons;
hundreds of thousands were bestially tortured by the secret police of various
totalitarian systems. Insatiable greed is driving people to hectic pursuit
of profit and acquisition of personal property beyond any reasonable limits.
Besides the specter of a nuclear war, this strategy has resulted in a situation
where humanity is threatened by several less spectacular, but insidious and
more predictable, doomsday scenarios.
Among these are industrial pollution of soil, water,
and air; the threat of nuclear waste and accidents; destruction of the ozone
layer; the greenhouse effect; possible loss of planetary oxygen through reckless
deforestation and poisoning of the ocean plankton; and the dangers of toxic
additives in our food and drinks. To this we can add a number of developments
that are of less apocalyptic nature, but are equally disturbing, such as
species extinction proceeding at an astronomical rate, homelessness and starvation
of a significant percentage of the world’s population, deterioration of family
and crisis of parenthood, disappearance of spiritual values, absence of hope
and positive perspective, loss of meaningful connection with Nature, and general
alienation. As a result of all the above factors, humanity now lives in chronic
anguish on the verge of a nuclear and ecological catastrophe, while in possession
of fabulous technology approaching the world of science fiction.
Modern science has developed effective means that
could solve most of the urgent problems in today’s world—combat the majority
of diseases, eliminate hunger and poverty, reduce the degree of industrial
waste, and replace destructive fossil fuels by renewable sources of clean
energy. The problems that stand in the way are not of an economical or technological
nature; their deepest sources lie inside the human personality. Because
of our human failings, unimaginable resources have been wasted in the absurdity
of the arms race, in power struggles, and in pursuit of "unlimited growth."
These failings also prevent a more appropriate distribution of wealth among
individuals and nations, as well as a reorientation from purely economic
and political concerns to ecological priorities that are critical for the
survival of life on this planet.
Diplomatic negotiations, administrative and legal
measures, economic and social sanctions, military interventions, and other
similar efforts have had very little success; as a matter of fact, they have
often produced more problems than they solved. It is becoming increasingly
clear why they have to fail: It is impossible to alleviate this crisis by
application of the strategies rooted in the same ideology that created it
in the first place. In the last analysis, the current global crisis is of
a psychospiritual nature; it reflects the level of consciousness evolution
of the human species. It is therefore hard to imagine that it could be resolved
without a radical inner transformation of humanity on a large scale and
a rise to a higher level of emotional maturity and spiritual awareness.
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 into humanity 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 thirty-five years
of intensive study of nonordinary 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—offers very
promising new strategies that could help alleviate the crisis we are all facing.
They are in full agreement with the perennial wisdom of the great spiritual
philosophies of the East and the mystical traditions of the world.
The observations and insights from the fields of
modern consciousness research, transpersonal psychology, and the emerging
paradigm that are relevant from the point of view of the current situation
in the world fall into the following five categories:
Development of a new image of the Universe and
of a more comprehensive understanding of human nature and of the psyche replacing
the behaviorist and Freudian models
New understanding of the roots of malignant aggression
and human violence
New insights into the nature of insatiable greed
Experiential approaches facilitating positive
personal transformation and consciousness evolution
Transpersonal psychology, consciousness research,
and the global crisis
New Image of the Universe,
the Psyche, and Human Nature
In recent years, many authors have pointed out that a significant factor
in the development of the global crisis has been the Newtonian-Cartesian
paradigm that has dominated Western science for the last three-hundred years.
It portrays the Universe as a giant, fully deterministic supermachine governed
by mechanical laws and involves a sharp dichotomy between mind and Nature.
The image of the Cosmos as a mechanical system has led to the belief that
it can be adequately understood by dissecting it and studying all its parts.
In addition, by elevating matter to the most important
principle in the Cosmos, Western science reduced life, consciousness, and
intelligence to its accidental byproducts. In this context, humans appear
to be nothing more than highly developed animals. This led to the acceptance
of antagonism, competition, and the Darwinian "survival of the fittest" as
the leading principles of human society. In addition, the description of organic
and inorganic nature as unconscious provided the justification for its exploitation
by humans, following the program so eloquently formulated by Francis Bacon.
Freudian psychoanalysis has contributed to the
global crisis by painting a pessimistic picture of human beings as creatures
whose primary motivating forces are bestial instincts. In this view, if we
were not afraid of societal repercussions and controlled by the superego
(internalized parental prohibitions and injunctions), we would kill and steal
indiscriminately, commit incest, and be involved in unbridled promiscuous
sex. This image of human nature relegated such concepts as complementarity,
synergy, mutual respect, and peaceful cooperation into the domain of temporary
opportunistic strategies or naive utopian fantasies. It is not difficult
to see how these concepts and the system of values associated with them have
helped to create the crisis we are facing.
However, during the last twenty-five years, revolutionary
developments in Western science have brought convincing evidence for a radically
different understanding of the Cosmos, human beings, and the psyche. It has
become increasingly clear that consciousness is not a product of the physiological
processes in the brain but is a primary attribute of existence. The Universe
is imbued with creative intelligence, and consciousness is inextricably
woven into its fabric. Modern consciousness research has shown that the conceptual
framework of traditional psychiatry and psychology—which reduces the human
psyche to biology, postnatal biography, and the Freudian individual unconscious—is
superficial, inadequate, and incorrect.
In nonordinary states of consciousness—such as
systematic meditation; shamanic rituals; near-death experiences; psychedelic
sessions; powerful forms of experiential psychotherapy such as rebirthing,
holotropic breathwork, and primal therapy; and spontaneous psychospiritual
crises—the psyche can reach far beyond such narrow limits. It is possible
to transcend the dynamics of the unconscious dominated by animal instincts
and connect with transpersonal domains. In the last analysis, the individual
psyche of each of us is commensurate with the totality of existence; the
deepest nature of humanity is not bestial, but divine. This understanding
of existence provides a natural basis for reverence for life, cooperation
and synergy, concerns for humanity and the planet as a whole, and deep ecological
New Understanding of the
Roots ofMalignant Aggression
and Human Violence
The modern human study of aggressive behavior started with Charles Darwin’s
(1859/1952) epoch-making discoveries in the field of evolution in the middle
of the last century. The attempts to explain human aggression from our animal
origin generated such theoretical concepts as Desmond Morris’s (1967) image
of the "naked ape," Ardrey’s (1961) idea of the "territorial imperative,"
Paul MacLean’s (1973) "triune brain," and Richard Dawkins’s (1976) sociobiological
explanations interpreting aggression in terms of genetic strategies of the
"selfish gene." More refined models of behavior developed by pioneers in ethology—such
as Konrad Lorenz (1963), Nikolaas Tinbergen (1965), and others—complemented
mechanical emphasis on instincts by the study of ritualistic and motivational
However, any theories suggesting that the human
tendency to violence simply reflects our animal origin are inadequate and
unconvincing. Animals exhibit aggression when they are hungry, defending
their territory, or competing for sex. However, the nature and scope of human
violence—Erich Fromm’s (1973) "malignant aggression"—has no parallels in
the animal kingdom. There are no natural parallels to the atrocities committed
in the course of human history. Awareness of the inadequacy of the belief
that aggression is an inborn fact of evolutionary nature led to the formulation
of psychodynamic and psychosocial theories that consider a significant part
of human aggression to be learned phenomena. This trend began in the late
1930s with the monograph Frustration and Aggression
by Dollard and Miller (1939).
Psychodynamic theories are trying to explain the
specifically human aggression as a reaction to frustration, abuse, and lack
of love in infancy and childhood. However, even explanations of this kind
fall painfully short of accounting for extreme forms of individual violence
(such as the Boston Strangler, serial murders of the Geoffrey Dahmer type,
or the Texas gunman White), crimes committed by gangs and criminal groups
(like the Sharon Tate murders or prison uprisings), and particularly mass
societal phenomena like Nazism, Communism, bloody wars, revolutions, genocide,
and concentration camps.
In the last several decades, psychedelic research
and deep experiential psychotherapies have been able to throw much light on
the problems of human aggression. They discovered that the sources of this
problematic and dangerous aspect of human nature are much deeper and more
formidable than traditional psychology ever imagined. However, at the same
time, these experiential modalities also revealed extremely effective approaches
that can help to neutralize and transform these deep and dark roots. In addition,
the observations from these therapies indicate that malignant aggression
does not reflect true human nature. In fact, malignant aggression is
connected with a domain of unconscious dynamics which separates us
from our deeper identity. When we reach the transpersonal realms that lie
beyond this screen of malignancy, we realize that our true nature is divine
rather than bestial. This finding is fully congruent with the understanding
described in the ancient Indian Upanishads by the phrase "Tat tvam
asi" (Thou art That)—meaning that, in the last analysis, each of us is
identical with the creative principle of the Universe.
Perinatal Sources of Violence
There is no doubt that malignant aggression is connected with traumas
and frustrations in childhood and infancy. However, modern consciousness
research has revealed additional significant roots of violence in deep recesses
of the psyche that lie beyond postnatal biography and are related to the
trauma of biological birth (or perinatal). The vital emergency, pain,
and suffocation experienced for many hours during biological delivery generate
enormous amounts of anxiety and murderous aggression which remain stored in
the organism. The reliving of birth in various forms of experiential psychotherapy
does not involve only concrete replay of the original emotions and sensations,
but is typically associated with a variety of experiences portraying violent
scenes. Among these are often powerful sequences depicting wars, revolutions,
racial riots, concentration camps, totalitarianism, genocide, and other such
horrifyingly violent scenes.
This spontaneous emergence of sociopolitical themes
and insights during the perinatal process makes it possible to make very specific
conclusions about the psychological dynamics involved. Naturally, wars and
revolutions are extremely complex phenomena that have historical, economic,
political, religious, and other dimensions. The intention here is not to
offer a reductionistic explanation but to add some new insights concerning
the psychological and spiritual dimensions of these events that have been
neglected, or covered in an inadequate and superficial way.
The images of sociopolitical events accompanying
the reliving of biological birth tend to appear in very specific connection
with the consecutive stages of the birth process. These distinct stages of
the birth process I have termed basic perinatal matrices, BPM
for short. While reliving episodes of undisturbed intrauterine existence
(an example of a Basic Perinatal Matrix I, or BPM I experience)
subjects typically experience images from early human societies with an ideal
social structure, cultures living in complete harmony with Nature (e.g., pristine
Polynesian Islands), or of future utopian societies where all major conflicts
have been resolved. Disturbing intrauterine memories (toxic womb, imminent
miscarriage, attempted abortions) are accompanied by images of human groups
living in industrial areas where Nature is polluted and spoilt, or of belonging
to societies with all-pervasive insidious danger and paranoia.
Regressive experiences related to the first clinical
stage of birth (in my terminology, BPM II), during which the uterus
periodically contracts but the cervix is not open, present a diametrically
different picture. They portray oppressive and abusive totalitarian societies
with closed borders, victimizing their populations, and "choking" personal
freedom (Czarist or Communist Russia, Hitler’s Third Reich, South American
dictatorships, Apartheid) or inmates in Nazi concentration camps or Stalin’s
Gulag Archipelago. Subjects experiencing these scenes of living hell identify
exclusively with the victims and feel deep sympathy for the downtrodden and
The experiences accompanying the reliving of the
second clinical stage of delivery (BPM III), when the cervix is dilated
and continued contractions propel the fetus through the narrow passage of
the birth canal, feature a rich panoply of violent scenes—bloody wars and
revolutions, human or animal slaughter, mutilation sequences, sexual abuse,
and murder. These scenes often contain demonic elements and repulsive scatological
motifs. Additional frequent concomitants are visions of burning cities, launching
of rockets, and explosions of nuclear bombs. Subjects are not limited to
the role of victims but can participate in three roles—that of the victim,
of the aggressor, and of an emotionally involved observer.
The events characterizing the third clinical stage
of delivery (BPM IV)—the actual moment of birth and the separation
from the mother—are associated with images of victory in wars and revolutions,
liberation of prisoners, success of collective efforts such as patriotic or
nationalistic movements, triumphant celebrations and parades, or postwar reconstruction.
In 1975, I described these observations linking
sociopolitical upheavals to stages of biological birth in my first book,
Realms of the Human Unconscious (Grof, 1975).
Shortly after its publication, I received a letter from Lloyd deMause, a
New York psychoanalyst and historian. DeMause is one of the founders of
psychohistory—a discipline that applies the findings
of depth psychology to history and political science. Psychohistorians study
such issues as the relationship between the childhood history of political
leaders and their systems of values and processes of decision-making, or the
influence of childrearing practices on the nature of revolutions of that particular
historical period. Lloyd deMause was very interested in my findings concerning
the trauma of birth and its possible sociopolitical implications, because
they provided independent support for his own research.
For some time, Lloyd had been studying the psychological
aspects of the periods preceding wars and revolutions. It interested him how
military leaders succeed in mobilizing masses of peaceful civilians and transform
them into killing machines. His approach was very original and creative;
in addition to analysis of traditional historical sources, he drew data of
great psychological importance from political cartoons, caricatures, jokes,
dreams, personal imagery, slips of the tongue, side comments of speakers,
and even doodles and scribbles on the edges of the rough drafts of political
documents. By the time he contacted me, he had analyzed in this way seventeen
situations preceding the outbreak of wars and revolutionary upheavals, spanning
many centuries since antiquity to most recent times.
He was struck by the extraordinary abundance of
figures of speech, metaphors, and images related to biological birth in this
material (deMause, 1975). Thus military leaders and politicians of all ages
describing a critical situation or declaring war typically use terms that
equally apply to perinatal distress. They accuse the enemy of choking and
strangling us, squeezing the last breath out of our lungs, or confining us,
and not giving us enough space to live (Hitler’s "Lebensraum"). Equally frequent
are allusions to dark caves, tunnels, and confusing labyrinths; dangerous
abysses into which we might be pushed; and the threat of engulfment or drowning.
Similarly, the promise of resolution comes in the form of perinatal images:
The leader promises to guide us to the light on the other side of the tunnel,
lead us out of the labyrinth, and guarantee that after the oppressor is overcome
everybody will again breathe freely.
Lloyd deMause’s historical examples at the time
included such famous personages as Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Samuel
Adams, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hitler, Krushchev, and Kennedy. Samuel Adams talking
about the American Revolution referred to "the child of Independence now
struggling for birth." In 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm stated that "The Monarchy
has been seized by the throat and forced to choose between letting itself
be strangled and making a last ditch effort to defend itself against attack."
During the Cuban missile crisis Krushchev wrote to Kennedy, pleading that
the two nations not "come to a clash, like blind moles battling to death
in a tunnel." Even more explicit was the coded message used by Japanese ambassador,
Kurusu, when he phoned Tokyo to signal that negotiations had broken down
with Roosevelt and that it was all right to go ahead with the bombing of
Pearl Harbor. He announced that the "birth of a child was imminent" and asked
how things were in Japan: "Does it seem as if the child might be born?" The
reply was, "Yes, the birth of the child seems imminent." Interestingly, the
American intelligence listening in recognized the meaning of the war-as-birth
Particularly chilling was the use of perinatal
language in connection with the explosion of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
The airplane was given the name of the pilot’s mother, Enola Gay. The atomic
bomb itself carried a painted nickname, Little Boy, and the agreed-upon message
sent to Washington as a signal of successful detonation was, "The baby was
born." It would not be too far-fetched to see the image of newborn also behind
the nickname of the Nagasaki bomb, Fat Man.
Since the time of our correspondence, Lloyd deMause
has collected many additional historical examples and refined his thesis that
the memory of the birth trauma plays an important role as a source of motivation
for violent social activity (see, e.g., deMause, 1982, 1996).
The issues related to nuclear warfare are of such
relevance that I would like to elaborate on them using the material from a
fascinating paper by Carol Cohn (1987) titled "Sex and Death in the Rational
World of the Defense Intellectuals." The defense intellectuals are civilians
who move in and out of government, working sometimes as administrative officials
or consultants, sometimes at universities and think tanks. They create the
theory that informs and legitimates US nuclear strategic practice—how to manage
the arms race, how to deter the use of nuclear weapons, how to fight a nuclear
war if the deterrence fails, and how to explain why it is not safe to live
without nuclear weapons.
Carol Cohn attended a two-week seminar summer workshop
on nuclear weapons, nuclear strategic doctrine, and arms control. She was
so fascinated by what had transpired there that she spent the following year
immersed in the almost entirely male world (except secretaries) of defense
intellectuals. She collected some extremely interesting facts confirming the
perinatal dimension in nuclear warfare. In her own terminology, these facts
confirm the importance of the motif of "male birth" and "male creation" as
important psychological forces underlying the psychology of nuclear warfare.
She uses the following historical examples to illustrate her point of view:
In 1942 Ernest Lawrence sent a telegram to a Chicago
group of physicists developing the nuclear bomb: "Congratulations to the new
parents. Can hardly wait to see the new arrival." At Los Alamos, the
atom bomb was referred to as "Oppenheimer’s baby." Richard
Feynman wrote in his article, "Los Alamos from Below," that when he was temporarily
on leave after his wife’s death he received a telegram that read, "The baby
is expected on such and such a day."
At Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, the hydrogen
bomb was referred to as "Teller’s baby," although those who wanted to
disparage Edward Teller’s contribution claimed he was not the bomb’s father,
but its mother. They claimed that Stanislav Ulam was the real father, who
had all the important ideas and conceived it; Teller only "carried it" after
that. Terms related to motherhood were also used to the provision of "nurturance"—the
maintenance of the missiles.
General Grove sent a triumphant coded cable to
Secretary of War Henry Stimson at the Potsdam conference reporting the success
of the first atomic test: "Doctor has just returned most enthusiastic and
confident that the little boy is as husky as his big brother. The light in
his eyes discernible from here to Highhold and I could have heard his screams
from here to my farm." Stimson, in turn, informed Churchill by writing him
a note that read, "Baby satisfactorily born."
William L. Laurence witnessed the test of the first
atomic bomb and wrote: "The big boom came about a hundred seconds after the
great flash—the first cry of a newborn world." Edward Teller’s exultant telegram
to Los Alamos, announcing the successful test of the hydrogen bomb "Mike"
at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands read, "It’s a boy." The male scientists
gave birth to a progeny with the ultimate power of domination over female
The Enola Gay, Little Boy, and "The baby was born"
symbolism of the Hiroshima bomb, and the Fat Man symbolism of the Nagasaki
bomb were mentioned already.
Carol Cohn also mentions in her paper an abundance
of overtly sexual symbolism in the language of defense intellectuals
. The nature of this material, linking sex to aggression, domination, and
scatology shows a deep similarity to the imagery occurring in the context
of birth experiences (BPM III). Examples: American dependence on nuclear weapons
was explained as irresistible, because "you get more bang for the buck."
A professor’s explanation of why the MX missiles should be placed in the
silos of the newest Minuteman missiles instead of replacing the older, less
accurate ones was, "You are not going to take the nicest missile you have
and put it into a crummy hole." At one point, there was a serious concern
that "we have to harden our missiles," because "the Russians are a little
harder than we are." One military adviser to the National Security Council
referred to "releasing seventy to eighty percent of our megatonnage in one
Lectures were filled with terms like "vertical
erector launchers," "thrust-to-weight ratios," "soft lay-downs," "deep penetration,"
and the comparative advantages of "protracted" versus "spasm attacks." Another
example is the popular and widespread custom of "patting the missiles,"
an expression of phallic supremacy but also homoerotic tendencies. It clearly
is quite appropriate for feminist critics of nuclear policies to refer to
"missile envy" and "phallic worship."
Further support for the pivotal role of the perinatal
domain of the unconscious in war psychology can be found in Sam Keen’s (1988)
excellent book The Faces of the Enemy. Keen brought together an outstanding
collection of distorted and biased war posters, propaganda cartoons, and
caricatures from many historical periods and countries. He demonstrated that
the way the enemy is described and portrayed during a war or revolution is
a stereotype that shows very little variation and has very little to do with
the actual characteristics of the culture involved.
He was able to divide these images into several
archetypal categories according to the prevailing characteristics (e.g. Stranger,
Aggressor, Worthy Opponent, Faceless, Enemy of God, Barbarian, Greedy, Criminal,
Torturer, Rapist, Death). According to Keen, the alleged images of the enemy
are essentially projections of the repressed and unacknowledged Shadow aspects
of our own unconscious. Although we would certainly find in human history
instances of "just wars," those who initiate war activities are typically
substituting external targets for elements in their own psyches which should
properly be faced in personal self-exploration.
Sam Keen’s theoretical framework does not specifically
include the perinatal domain of the unconscious. However, the analysis of
his picture material reveals a preponderance of symbolic images that are characteristic
for BPM II and BPM III. The enemy is typically depicted as a dangerous octopus,
a vicious dragon, a multiheaded hydra, a giant venomous tarantula, or an
engulfing Leviathan. Other frequently used symbols include vicious predatory
felines or birds, monstrous sharks, and ominous snakes—particularly vipers
and boa constrictors. Scenes depicting strangulation or crushing, ominous
whirlpools, and treacherous quicksands also abound in pictures from the times
of wars, revolutions, and political crises. Juxtaposition of pictures from
nonordinary states of consciousness that depict perinatal experiences with
the historical pictorial documentation collected by Lloyd deMause and Sam
Keen represents strong evidence for the perinatal roots of human violence.
According to the new insights—provided jointly
by observations from nonordinary states of consciousness and the findings
of psychohistory—we all carry in our deep unconscious powerful energies and
emotions associated with the trauma of birth that we have not adequately mastered
and assimilated. For some of us, this aspect of our psyche can be completely
unconscious, until and unless we embark on some in-depth self-exploration
with the use of psychedelics or some powerful experiential techniques of psychotherapy,
such as holotropic breathwork, primal therapy, or rebirthing. Others of us
can have varying degrees of awareness of the emotions and physical sensations
stored on the perinatal level of the unconscious.
The activation of this material can lead to serious
individual psychopathology, including unmotivated violence. It seems that,
for unknown reasons, awareness of the perinatal elements can increase simultaneously
in a large number of people. This creates an atmosphere of tension, anxiety,
and anticipation. The leader is an individual who is under a stronger influence
of the perinatal energies than an average person. He also has the ability
to disown his unacceptable feelings (the Shadow in Jung’s terminology)
and to project them onto the external situation. The collective discomfort
is blamed on the enemy, and a military intervention is offered as a solution.
The war provides an opportunity to abandon the
psychological defenses that ordinarily keep the dangerous perinatal tendencies
in check. Freud’s superego—a psychological force which demands restraint
and civilized behavior—is replaced by the "war superego": We now receive
praise and medals for the same behaviors that are unacceptable and punishable
in peacetime—murder, indiscriminate destruction, and pillaging. Once the
war erupts, the destructive and self-destructive impulses can be freely
acted out. The perinatal elements that we normally encounter in a certain
stage of the process of inner exploration and transformation (BPM II and
III) now become the images that are part of our life, either directly or
in the form of TV news and print media. Various no-exit situations, sadomasochistic
orgies, sexual violence, bestial and demonic behavior, unleashing of enormous
explosive energies, and scatology—which belong to standard perinatal imagery—are
all enacted in wars and revolutions with extraordinary vividness and power.
However, the acting out of unconscious impulses—whether
it occurs on the individual scale or collectively in wars and revolutions—does
not result in transformation as would their full conscious experience, since
insight and therapeutic intention are missing. Thus the goal of the underlying
birth fantasy, which represents the driving force of such violent events,
is not achieved, even if the war or revolution has been brought to a successful
closure. The most triumphant external victory does not deliver what was
expected and hoped for: an inner sense of emotional liberation and spiritual
rebirth. After the initial intoxicating feelings of triumph come, at first,
a sober awakening and, later, bitter disappointment. And it usually does
not take a long time before a facsimile of the old oppressive system starts
emerging from the ruins of the dead dream, since the same unconscious forces
continue to operate in the deep unconscious. This seems to happen again and
again in human history, whether the event is the French Revolution, the Bolshevik
Revolution in Russia, or World War II.
Since for many years I conducted deep experiential
work in Prague at the time when Czechoslovakia had a Marxist regime, I was
able to collect some fascinating material concerning the psychological dynamics
of Communism. The issues related to Communist ideology typically emerged at
the time when my clients were struggling with perinatal energies and emotions.
It became obvious that the passion the revolutionaries feel toward the oppressors
and their regimes receives a powerful reinforcement from their revolt against
the inner prison of their perinatal memories. And conversely, the need to
coerce and dominate others is an external displacement of the need to overcome
the fear of being overwhelmed by one’s own unconscious. The murderous entanglement
of the oppressor and the revolutionary is thus an externalized replica of
the situation experienced in the birth canal.
The Communist vision contains an element of psychological
truth, which has made it appealing to large numbers of people. The basic notion—that
a dramatic experience of a revolutionary nature is necessary to terminate
suffering and oppression and institute a situation of greater harmony—is
correct when understood as a process of inner transformation. However, it
is dangerously false when it is projected into the external world as a political
ideology of violent revolutions. The basic fallacy lies in the fact that
what on a deeper level is essentially an archetypal pattern of spiritual
death and rebirth takes the form of an atheistic and antispiritual program.
Communist revolutions have been extremely successful
in their destructive phase; but instead of the promised brotherhood and harmony
their victories have bred regimes where oppression, cruelty, and injustice
ruled supreme. Today when the economically ruined and divided Soviet Union
and the Communist world have fallen apart, it is obvious to all people with
sane judgment that this gigantic historical experiment conducted at the cost
of millions of human lives and unimaginable human suffering has been a colossal
failure. If the above observations are correct, no external interventions
have a chance to create a better world, unless they are associated with a
profound transformation of human consciousness.
The observations from modern consciousness research
also throw some important light on the psychology of concentration camps.
Over a number of years, Professor Bastians in Leyden, Holland, has been conducting
LSD therapy for people suffering from the concentration-camp syndrome
, which is a condition that develops in former inmates of these camps many
years after the incarceration. Bastians has also worked with former kapos
on their issues of guilt. An artistic description of this work can be found
in the book Shivitti written by a former inmate, Ka-Tzetnik 135633
(1989), who underwent a series of therapeutic sessions with Bastians.
Bastians (1955) himself wrote a paper describing
his work, titled "Man in the Concentration Camp and the Concentration Camp
in Man." There he pointed out, without specifying it, that the concentration
camps are a projection of a certain domain which exists in the human unconscious:
"Before there was a man in the concentration camp, there was a concentration
camp in man" (Bastians, 1955). Study of the nonordinary states of consciousness
made it possible to identify the realm of the psyche Bastians was talking
about. Closer examination of the general and specific conditions in the
Nazi concentration camps reveals that they are a diabolical and realistic
enactment of the nightmarish atmosphere that characterizes the reliving of
The barbed-wire barriers, high-voltage fences,
watch towers with submachine guns, mine fields, and packs of trained dogs
certainly created a hellish and almost archetypal image of an utterly hopeless
and oppressive no-exit situation which is so characteristic of the first
clinical stage of birth (BPM II). At the same time, the elements of violence,
bestiality, scatology, and sexual abuse of women and men—including rape
and sadistic practices—all belong to the phenomenology of the second stage
(BPM III), familiar to people who have relived their birth.
The sexual abuse existed on a random individual
level, as well as in the "houses of dolls," which were institutions providing
"entertainment" for the officers. The only escape out of this hell was death—by
hunger, disease, or suffocation in the gas chambers and the fire of the crematoria.
The books by Ka-Tzetnik 135633, House of Dolls (1955) and Sunrise
Over Hell (1977), offer a shattering description of
the life in concentration camps. The SS officers directed special bestiality
against pregnant women. The irrational nature of the camps is best shown
in the scatological dimension—throwing eating bowls into the latrines and
asking for retrieval, and forcing the inmates to urinate into each other’s
mouths were practices that besides their bestiality bring the danger of epidemics
(in Buchenwald in one month, twenty-seven inmates drowned in feces).
The intensity, depth, driving quality, and convincing
nature of all the emotions and sensations involved in these experiences suggest
that they are not individually fabricated from such sources as adventure books,
movies, and TV shows; but that they originate in the collective unconscious.
It certainly seems that when, in our inner exploration, we reach the memory
of the trauma of birth, this seems to open the gates into the collective
unconscious and mediates access to experiences of people who once were in
a similar predicament. It is not hard to imagine that the perinatal level
of our unconscious, which "knows" so intimately the history of human violence,
is actually partially responsible for wars, revolutions, and similar atrocities.
If this is true, it should be possible to reduce the amount of malignant
aggression by a change in birth practices.
The role of the birth trauma as a source of violence
and self-destructive tendencies has been confirmed by many clinical studies.
There seems to be an important correlation between difficult birth and criminality.
The data suggest that a traumatic childhood in and of itself is not sufficient
to produce criminal behavior in later years. To be a significant factor
in this regard, postnatal traumatization, such as separation from mother,
has to be preceded by complicated birth. Also aggression directed inward,
in particular, suicide, seems to be psychogenetically linked to difficult
birth. According to a recent article published in Lancet, resuscitation
at birth is conducive to higher risk of committing suicide after puberty.
The Scandinavian researcher Bertil Jacobsen found a close correlation between
the form of self-destructive behavior and the nature of birth (Jacobsen
et al., 1987). Suicides involving asphyxiation were associated with suffocation
at birth; violent suicides, with mechanical birth trauma; and drug addiction
leading to suicide, with opiate and/or barbiturate administration during
The circumstances of birth thus play an important
role in creating a disposition to violence and self-destructive tendencies
or to loving behavior and healthy interpersonal relationships. French obstetrician
Michel Odent (1995) has shown how the hormones involved in the birth process
and nursing (oxytocin, endorphin, adrenaline, noradrenaline, and prolactin)
participate in this imprinting. While oxytocin is known to induce maternal
behavior in animals and endorphins foster dependency and attachment, the
adrenaline mechanisms played an important role in evolution as mediators
of the aggressive protective instinct of the mother at the time when birth
was occurring in unprotected natural environments. Under the present circumstances,
it should not be difficult to provide for birthing a quiet, safe, and private
environment conducive to positive interpersonal imprinting. The busy, noisy,
and chaotic milieu of many hospitals interferes with this process, induces
anxiety, and imprints the picture of a world that is potentially dangerous
and requires aggressive responses.
Transpersonal Sources of
The above material clearly indicates that a conceptual framework limited
to postnatal biography and the Freudian unconscious does not adequately
explain extreme forms of human violence on the individual and collective
scale. However, it seems that the roots of these phenomena reach even deeper
than to the perinatal level of the psyche. Consciousness research has revealed
significant additional sources of aggression in the transpersonal domain;
here belong, for example, archetypal images of demons and wrathful deities,
complex destructive mythological themes, matrices for animal aggression,
and painful past-life memories.
C. G. Jung believed that the archetypes of the
collective unconscious not only have a powerful influence on the behavior
of individuals but also govern large historical movements. From this point
of view, entire nations and cultural groups might be enacting in their behavior
important mythological themes. In the decade preceding the outbreak of World
War II, Jung found in the dreams of his German patients many elements from
the Nordic myth of Ragnarok, or "the twilight of the gods." He concluded
from this that this archetype was emerging in the collective psyche of the
German nation. He also predicted that it would lead to a major world catastrophe
which would ultimately turn out to be self-destructive.
In many instances, leaders of nations specifically
use not only perinatal but also archetypal images and spiritual symbolism
to achieve their political goals. The medieval crusaders were asked to sacrifice
their lives for Jesus in a war that would recover the Holy Land from the Mohammedans.
Hitler exploited the mythological motifs of the supremacy of the Nordic race
and of the millennial empire, as well as the ancient Aryan symbol of the
swastika and the solar eagle. Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein have
ignited the imaginations of their Muslim followers by references to jihad—the
holy war against the infidels.
It is interesting to mention in this context Carol
Cohn’s observations on the spiritual symbolism and religious imagery associated
with the language of nuclear weaponry and doctrine. From her feminist perspective,
she saw this as an effort of male scientists to appropriate and claim ultimate
creative power. The authors of the strategic doctrine refer to members of
their community as the "nuclear priesthood." The first atomic test was called
Trinity—the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the male forces
of creation. The scientists who worked on the bomb and witnessed the test
described it in the following way: "It was as though we stood at the first
day of creation." And Robert Oppenheimer thought of Krishna’s words to Arjuna
in the Bhagavad Gita: "I am become Death, the Shatterer of Worlds."
New Insights Into the Nature
of Insatiable Greed
Psychoanalytic interpretation of the insatiable human need to achieve,
possess, and become more than one is emphasizes sublimation of lower instincts.
According to Freud (1955),
What appears as . . . an untiring impulsion
toward further perfection can easily be understood as a result of the instinctual
repression upon which is based all that is most precious in human civilization.
The repressed instinct never ceases to strive for complete satisfaction, which
would consist in the repetition of a primary experience of satisfaction.
No substitutive or reactive formations and no sublimations will suffice
to remove the repressed instinct’s persisting tension.
More specifically, greed is interpreted as a phenomenon related to disturbances
in nursing. Oral frustration or overindulgence causes oral fixation, and
the primitive infantile need to eat—orally incorporate objects—extends in
adulthood to a variety of other objects and situations. Modern consciousness
research has found this interpretation to be superficial and inadequate and
has discovered additional perinatal and transpersonal sources of acquisitiveness
Perinatal Sources of
In the course of biographically oriented psychotherapy, many people
discover that their life has been inauthentic in certain specific sectors
of interpersonal relations. For example, problems with parental authority
lead to specific patterns of difficulties with authority figures; repeated
dysfunctional patterns in sexual relationships can be traced to parents as
models for sexual behavior; sibling issues color future peer relationships;
and so on.
However, when the process of experiential self-exploration
reaches the perinatal level, people typically discover that their life up
to that point has been largely inauthentic in its totality, not just in certain
partial segments. They also find out to their surprise and astonishment
that their entire life strategy has been misdirected and, therefore, unfulfilling.
The reason for this is the fact that it was primarily motivated by the fear
of death and the unconscious forces associated with biological birth that
have not been adequately processed and integrated (we are born anatomically,
but not emotionally).
When the field of consciousness is strongly influenced
by the underlying memory of the struggle in the birth canal, it leads to a
feeling of discomfort and dissatisfaction with the present situation. It can
focus on a large spectrum of issues: unsatisfactory physical appearance, inadequate
resources and material possessions, low social position and influence, insufficient
amount of power and fame, and so on. Like the child stuck in the birth canal,
the individual feels the need to get to a better situation that seems to
Whatever is the reality of the present circumstances
is not satisfactory, and the solution always seems to lie in the future. Our
fantasy will create an image of a future situation that will be more satisfactory;
until we reach it, life will be only preparation for a better future, not
yet "the real thing." This results in a life pattern that has been described
as a "treadmill" or a "rat-race" type of existence. The existentialists talk
about "auto-projecting" into the future.
When the goal is not reached, the continuing
dissatisfaction is rationalized by the failure to reach the correcting measures.
When the goal is reached, the continuing dissatisfaction is typically
explained by the fact that the goal was not quite right or was not ambitious
enough and has to be amplified or exchanged for another one. The failure
is not correctly diagnosed, that is, attributed to a fundamentally wrong
strategy which is in principle incapable of delivering happiness. This pattern
is responsible for reckless irrational pursuit of various grandiose goals
which results in much suffering and many problems in the world. It can be
played out on many different levels, since it never brings true satisfaction.
Transpersonal Roots of
True as this may be, modern consciousness research and experiential
psychotherapy have discovered that the deepest source of our dissatisfaction
and striving for perfection lies far beyond the biographical and perinatal
domain. The insatiable craving that drives human life is ultimately transpersonal
in nature. In Dante Alighieri’s words, "The desire for perfection is that
desire which always makes every pleasure appear incomplete, for there is
no joy or pleasure so great in this life that it can quench the thirst in
our soul." In the most general sense, the deepest transpersonal roots of
insatiable greed can best be understood in terms of Ken Wilber’s (1980) concept
of the Atman project. According to this understanding,
our true nature is divine—God, Buddha, Brahma, Tao—and although the process
of creation separates and alienates us from our source, the awareness of
this fact is never completely lost. The deepest motivating force in the psyche
on all the levels of consciousness evolution is to return to the experience
of our divinity. However, the constraining conditions of the consecutive stages
of development prevent a full experience of full liberation in and as God.
Real transcendence requires death of the separate
self, dying to the exclusive subject. Because of the fear of annihilation
and because of grasping onto the ego, the individual has to settle for Atman
substitutes or surrogates, specific for a particular stage. For an infant,
this will be satisfaction of age-specific physiological needs; for the adult,
besides food and sex, also money, fame, power, appearance, knowledge, and
so forth. Because of our deep sense that our true identity is the totality
of cosmic creation and the creative principle itself, substitutes of any degree
and scope—the Atman projects—will always remain unsatisfactory. Only the
experience of one’s divinity in a nonordinary state of consciousness can
ever fulfill our deepest needs. Thus the ultimate solution for the insatiable
greed is in the inner world, not in secular pursuits of any kind and scope.
This can be illustrated by the following quote from Traherne describing a
The streets were mine, the temple was
mine, the people were mine. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon
and stars, and all the world was mine, and I the only spectator and enjoyer
of it. I knew no churlish proprieties, nor bounds, nor divisions; but all
proprieties and divisions were mine; all treasures and the possessors of
them. So that with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices
of this world, which I now unlearn, and become, as it were, a little child
again that I may enter into the kingdom of God.
Facilitating Deep Personal Transformation and Consciousness Evolution
The discovery that the roots of human violence and insatiable greed
reach far deeper than academic psychiatry ever suspected and that their reservoirs
are truly enormous could in itself be very discouraging. However, it is more
than balanced by the discovery of new therapeutic mechanisms and transformative
potentials associated with the perinatal and transpersonal levels of the psyche.
Over the years I have seen profound emotional
and psychosomatic healing, as well as radical personality transformation,
in many people who were involved in serious and systematic inner quest. Some
of them were meditators and had a regular spiritual practice; others had psychedelic
experiences or spontaneous episodes of psychospiritual crises; and many participated
in various forms of experiential psychotherapy and self-exploration. As they
were consciously facing and integrating sequences of perinatal and transpersonal
experiences, their personality typically underwent radical changes.
As the content of the perinatal level of the
unconscious is brought into consciousness, the level of aggression typically
decreases; and people become more peaceful, more comfortable with themselves,
and more tolerant of others. The experience of psychospiritual rebirth and
connection with the memories of positive postnatal or prenatal memories reduces
irrational drives and ambitions and enhances the ability to enjoy the present
circumstances of life (everyday activities, Nature, music, love-making). Experiences
of cosmic unity and one’s own divinity further reduce irrational drives,
bring the sense of wonder and the ability to love, and open deep sources
of creativity. The most consistent consequence of deep experiential self-exploration
is the emergence of universal spirituality of a mystical nature that is based
on personal experience.
Nonordinary states of consciousness offer even
more exciting possibilities of positive evolutionary changes in the form of
experiential identification with other people, entire human groups, animals,
plants, and even inorganic materials and processes in Nature. One can gain
experiential access to events occurring in other countries, cultures, and
historical periods, and even to the mythological realms and archetypal beings
of the Jungian collective unconscious. The fact that these experiences can
contain accurate information about various realms of existence that goes far
beyond what the individual has obtained in his or her lifetime through the
conventional channels proves that they are authentic.
This suggests that, on a deeper level, each
individual psyche is intimately connected with the rest of the Cosmos and,
in a certain sense, is actually commensurate with it. In this way, modern
consciousness research has confirmed the basic thesis of the ancient Indian
Upanishads that each of us, in the last analysis,
is identical with the totality of existence and with the creative principle
of the Universe. An individual is not just a body-ego but is also the supreme
cosmic principle (Atman-Brahman ).
The above observations from transpersonal psychology
have far-reaching theoretical and practical implications for the area of our
discussion. People who gain experiential access to the perinatal area of
their unconscious have the unique opportunity to bring into consciousness
profound destructive and self-destructive energies and disturbing emotions
that are stored in this domain of the human psyche, come to terms with them,
and integrate them. They also discover within themselves deep spirituality
of a universal and all-encompassing nature. As a result of such spirituality,
they feel an increase of inner peace, self-acceptance, tolerance toward others,
and acceptance of differences.
These changes deepen and extend even further
when the process of experiential self-exploration reaches the transpersonal
level. What began as psychological probing of the unconscious psyche now automatically
becomes a philosophical quest for the meaning of life and a journey of spiritual
discovery. People who connect to the transpersonal domain of their psyche
tend to develop a new appreciation for existence and reverence for all life.
One of the most striking consequences of various forms of transpersonal experiences
is spontaneous emergence and development of deep humanitarian and ecological
concerns. It is based on an almost cellular awareness that the boundaries
in the Universe are arbitrary and that each of us is identical with the
entire web of Being. It is suddenly clear that we cannot do anything to
Nature without simultaneously doing it to ourselves. Differences among people
now appear to be interesting and enriching rather than threatening, whether
they are related to sex, race, color, language, political conviction, or
religious belief. It is obvious that a transformation of this kind would
increase our chances for survival if it could occur on a sufficiently large
Consciousness Research, and the Global Crisis
Some of the insights of people experiencing nonordinary states of consciousness
are directly related to the current global crisis and its relationship with
consciousness evolution. They show that we have exteriorized in the modern
world many of the essential themes of the perinatal process that a person
involved in deep personal transformation has to face and come to terms with
internally. The same elements that we would encounter in the process of psychological
death and rebirth in our visionary experiences make today our evening news.
This is particularly true in regard to the phenomena that characterize what
I call BPM III.
We certainly see the enormous unleashing of
the aggressive impulse in the many wars and revolutionary upheavals in the
world, in the rising criminality, terrorism, and racial riots. Sexual experiences
and behaviors are taking unprecedented forms, as manifested in sexual freedom
of youngsters, promiscuity, open marriages, overtly sexual books, plays, and
movies, gay liberation, sadomasochistic experimentation, and many others.
The demonic element is also becoming increasingly manifest in the modern world.
A renaissance of satanic cults and witchcraft, the popularity of books and
horror movies with occult themes, and crimes with satanic motivations attest
to that fact. The scatological dimension is evident in the progressive industrial
pollution, accumulation of waste products on a global scale, and rapidly
deteriorating hygienic conditions in large cities.
Many of the people with whom we have worked
saw humanity at a critical crossroads, facing either collective annihilation
or an evolutionary jump in consciousness of unprecedented proportions. Terence
McKenna (1992) put it very succinctly: "The history of the silly monkey is
over, one way or another." It seems that we all are collectively involved
in a process that parallels the psychological death and rebirth that so many
people have experienced individually in nonordinary states of consciousness.
If we continue to act out the problematic destructive and self-destructive
tendencies originating in the depths of the unconscious, we will undoubtedly
destroy ourselves and the life on this planet. However, if we succeed in internalizing
this process on a large enough scale, it might result in an evolutionary
progress that can take us as far beyond our present condition as we now are
from primates. As utopian as the possibility of such a development might
seem, it might be our only real chance.
Let us now look into the future and explore
the various avenues that would have to be pursued should the concepts that
have emerged from the transpersonal field and the new paradigm in science
be put into action in the world. Although the past accomplishments are very
impressive, the new ideas still form a disjointed mosaic, rather than a complete
and comprehensive worldview. Much work has to be done in terms of accumulating
more data, formulating new theories, and achieving a creative synthesis. In
addition, the existing information has to reach much larger audiences before
a significant impact on the world situation can be expected.
But even a radical intellectual shift to a
new paradigm on a large scale would not be sufficient to alleviate the global
crisis and reverse the destructive course we are on. The forces driving this
vicious cycle, rooted as deep as they are in the unconscious, would hardly
be neutralized by changes of cognitive structures and a new worldview. Rather,
what is required is a deep emotional and spiritual transformation of humanity.
Using the existing evidence, it is possible to suggest certain strategies
that might facilitate and support such a process.
Efforts to change humanity would have to start
with psychological prevention at an early age. The data from pre- and perinatal
psychology indicate that much could be achieved by changing the conditions
of pregnancy, delivery, and postnatal care—improving the emotional preparation
of the mother during pregnancy, practicing natural childbirth, and emphasizing
in the postpartum period emotionally nourishing contact between the mother
and the child.
Much has been written about the importance
of childrearing, as well as the disastrous emotional consequences of traumatic
conditions in infancy and childhood. Certainly this is an area where continued
education and guidance is necessary. However, to be able to apply the theoretically
known principles, the parents have to reach sufficient emotional stability
and maturity themselves. It is well known that emotional problems are passed
like a curse from generation to generation. We are facing here a very complex
problem of the chicken and the egg.
Humanistic and transpersonal psychologies have
developed effective experiential methods of self-exploration, healing, and
personality transformation. Some of these come from the therapeutic tradition,
others represent modern adaptations of ancient spiritual practices. There
exist approaches with a very favorable ratio between professional helpers
and clients and others that can be practiced in the context of self-help groups.
Systematic work with them can lead to a spiritual opening, which is a move
in a direction that is sorely needed on a collective scale should our species
Finally, it is essential to spread the information
about these possibilities and get enough people personally interested in pursuing
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 destructive
and self-destructive, it is unlikely that the human species will survive.
However, if a sufficient number of people undergoes a process of deep inner
transformation, we might reach a level of consciousness evolution that will
bring us to the point of deserving the name given to our species, Homo
sapiens—i.e., wise humans.
Note: Click on book title or its cover icon for more info on book or
reference, including how to purchase.
Freud, Sigmund. (1955).
Beyond the Pleasure Principle
The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 18
, (J. Strachey, ed.). London: The Hogarth Press & The Institute of Psychoanalysis.
Lorenz, Konrad. (1963).
On Aggression. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
MacLean, Paul. (1973). A triune concept of the
brain and behavior. Lecture I: Man’s reptilian and limbic inheritance; Lecture
II: Man’s limbic system and the psychoses; Lecture III: New trends in man’s
evolution. In T. Boag and D. Campbell (Eds.), The Hincks Memorial Lectures
. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Odent, Michel. (1995). Prevention of violence
or genesis of love? Which perspective? Presentation at the Fourteenth International
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Tinbergen, Nikolaas. (1965). Animal Behavior
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This article was originally published in Primal Renaissance: The Journal
of Primal Psychology, Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 3-26. It had
been presented at the Thirteenth International Transpersonal Association
Conference, titled "Spirituality, Ecology, and Native Wisdom," which was
held in Killarney, Ireland, in June 1994. [return to
STANISLAV GROF, M.D., is a psychiatrist with more than thirty years
of research experience in nonordinary states of consciousness. He was born
and educated in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and received an M.D. from Prague’s
Charles University School of Medicine, where he specialized in psychiatry.
He was the principal investigator for a program at the Psychiatric Research
Institute in Prague that explored the potential of psychedelic therapy. For
his dissertation on this subject, he was awarded a Ph.D. (doctorate of philosophy
in medicine) by the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences.
In 1967 he was invited to Johns Hopkins University
as a clinical and research fellow and to the research unit of Spring Grove
State Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, where he continued his psychedelic
research. In 1969 he was offered the position of chief of psychiatric research
at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center and of assistant professor of
psychiatry at Henry Phipps Clinic. The research team he headed systematically
explored the value of psychedelic therapy in neurotics, alcoholics, drug addicts,
and terminal cancer patients.
Stanislav continued these functions until 1973,
when he moved to California and became scholar-in-residence at the Esalen
Institute in Big Sur. Since that time, he has focused on exploring the potential
of experiential psychotherapy without drugs and, with his wife Christina,
he developed the nondrug experiential modality, Holotropic Breathwork™. In
addition to his writing, he gives lectures and conducts training seminars
worldwide in this modality.
Stanislav Grof is one of the founders and chief
theoreticians of transpersonal psychology and is the founding president of
the International Transpersonal Association. On the occasion of its twenty-fifth
anniversary, the Association for Transpersonal Psychology singled out Stanislav
Grof, along with Ken Wilber, to receive a special award in recognition of
his contributions to the field of transpersonal psychology. He has published
more than one-hundred papers in professional journals and is the author
of the books: Realms of the Human Unconscious, The Human Encounter
with Death, LSD Psychotherapy, Beyond the Brain, The
Adventure of Self-Discovery, The Holotropic Mind, The Cosmic
Game, and The Transpersonal Vision--this last of which was published
by Sounds True and released as a package along with an album of his audiotapes,
covering the main areas to which he has contributed. He was also editor
of the volumes Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science and Human Survival
and Consciousness Evolution.Finally, he serves on the Board
of Editors of Primal Renaissance: The Journal of Primal Psychology--
the journal where the preceding article first appeared.
Websites of interest regarding Stanislav Grof's