Primal Therapy and the
Legitimacy of Spiritual Experience
The debate about the status we should ascribe
to spiritual experience has been going on for a long time.
Disagreement on this was crucial to Jung's break from Freud,
with Jung postulating an unconscious containing transpersonal as well as
purely personal elements. More
recently, LSD research and cathartic approaches to psychotherapy have extended
the experiential exploration of spiritual aspects of the unconscious.
Consequently, the legitimacy of spiritual experience has
become an issue among some of us who primal.
Some of us who have been through primal therapy
have begun to have experiences that we find difficult to trace to biological
roots. But Janov, in his writings
about primal, is consistent with the Freudian tradition in which he was
tutored. He maintains a mechanistic
interpretation of the primal process.
He sees spiritual experiences as derivative of underlying
primal pain and views meditation as "anti-Primal" (1970, p. 222).
For some who have continued primaling beyond Janov's
prescribed limits, it is becoming apparent that he is unaware of some of
the potentials of the process he presented.
As one who has been "feeling his feelings"
for over two decades, I will present an explanation of the relationship
between the primal and spiritual processes as an alternative to Janov's
mechanistic one. I rely on
my own experiences and those of several other primalers as they have been
related to me. I also rely
on the important work with LSD that Stanislav Grof (1970, 1976, 1980, 1985,
1988; Grof & Halifax, 1977) has presented.
It may be important to bring us up to date
on primal therapy. Arthur Janov
introduced it in 1970 with his controversial book,
The Primal Scream, subtitled,
Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis.
It had its time of ascendancy, with well-known
personalities such as John Lennon espousing it.
It also had a long period of malignment in print and the
media, with much of the criticism apparently directed at Arthur Janov's style
in presenting it or the excessive quality of his claims concerning it.
Relevant articles, which were published in the
Journal of Humanistic Psychology, are those by Kelley (1972), Kaufmann
(1974), and Lonsbury (1978).
Despite the controversy, however, primal therapy seems to have struck a
chord in many people with its statement that the vast majority of us carry
around a reservoir of unfelt pain from past experiences that was repressed
because it was too overwhelming to be dealt with at the time.
Primal therapy survived many of its contemporaries in the
human potential movement.
Primal theory, simply stated, is that the memories
of unfelt pain from traumatic experiences in childhood, at birth, and in
the womb, and the emotions that would have naturally occurred with them,
are locked in the body as unresolved tension.
This tension motivates all neurotic and psychotic symptoms
in its grosser manifestations, and in its subtler manifestations influences
and shapes one's perceptions of and attitudes toward one's self and world,
and thus determines one's behavior toward them.
It does so in a manner that is symbolic of the unresolved
need or trauma.
This pain/tension keeps us uncomfortable, keeps
us from being able to see reality clearly and act positively, keeps us from
being fully functioning, and keeps us forever viciously trapped in negative
life situations that serve only to recreate the patterns of our past scars.
In primal one opens up to these repressed memories and relives
the traumatic events with all the emotion that should have been there, accompanying
them, originally. In resolving
the tensions, one sees more clearly and is able to act more positively and
joyfully and to create more positive scenarios for one's life.
Space limits a complete description of primal theory
or therapy, and for that I refer the reader to Janov and to the articles
mentioned. That is, with a
few modifications. Outside
of Janov's own works, much of what has appeared in print has, as nearly as
I can determine, been written by people who have neither been in nor been
very close to primal therapy, the exception being Lonsbury (1978).
In addition, little popular attention has been directed to
it in recent years, and none to its development.
I have been involved in a developing primal therapy and would
like to amend the record accordingly.
I agree with much of what Kelley had to say in 1972.
In Denver, where I did the majority of my therapy, the medical
model was abandoned and an educational one was adopted, as per his suggestion.
More importantly, Kelley noted the fallacy of
a "postprimal" state, "cured" and devoid of defenses.
That this state is an extrapolation of tendencies,
as Kelley says, and the mythical qualities of a "primal man" as well as
a "genital character," has become obvious to most of us who have been primaling
for any extended period of time.
To that extent, Kelley was well ahead of the rest of us in primal in seeing
this. My major disagreement
with his article is that it does not seem to take into account the deeper
potentials of the primal process.
He posits a need for an "education in purpose," which
is separate from or "antithetical" to (an education in) feeling, and does
not acknowledge the possible emergence of a "felt purpose," in the course
of one's "feeling," that synthesizes the two.
But most of all, I feel it is important to respond
to Kaufmann (1974). Much of
his attitude and many of his assertions have been mirrored elsewhere in the
media and have contributed to the prevailing distorted impression of primal
that is at variance with what I will be describing.
As other critics of primal have done, Kaufmann seems to have
zeroed in on the excesses and inaccuracies of the early primal therapy as
described in Janov's earliest works.
A good example is his criticism of the "postprimal"
person. This indolent, sexless
character has been the source of much confusion and disdain for primal therapy.
And Kaufmann's remarks clearly are admissible considering
the date. But let me say emphatically
that this particular notion of a "real person" was later abandoned both
in the publications coming out of Janov's Primal Institute ("A connected
) and among us primalers.
We just didn't turn out that way.
Janov's early characterization began to be seen as someone
just on the verge of making a more precipitous descent into earlier, "first-line,"
Other of the early inaccuracies eventually were
cleared up in practice. The
primal therapy I experienced in Denver in 1975 with Jules and Helen Roth
and their staff was an evolved version of primal as originally described
by Janov (1970), or as initially presented to me in Toronto by Thomas Verny
in 1972. It was less directive,
more supportive. We didn't
maintain the illusion (as much) that anyone could really know where someone
else was "at" and so we didn't pretend that we could "bust" each other.
Similarly, we didn't use "props" or attempt to interpret one
another's experiences. We let
one another "be" more fully where we already were and helped one another
to go "deeper."
I specify the discrepancies because they relate to what I say further on.
I might also add that while in Denver I was witness
and participant in primal's continued development.
Initially, it did contain many elements of a "primal religion"
as often criticized. Subsequently,
we let go of illusions of that nature and were able to integrate this invaluable
tool into a fuller life and into a broader framework of understanding.
My impression from other primalers is that similar evolutions
The point I make is that the primal therapy to which
I refer is quite unlike the popular notions of "primal scream therapy" and
different in many ways from its earliest descriptions.
My response to detractors of early primal therapy is just
that many of their criticisms are no longer relevant.
An Alternative Explanation
This chapter is part of the development
in primal in correcting one inaccuracy of the early "primal scream," which
is Janov's attitude regarding the relation between feeling one's feelings
and the spiritual process. Janov
would claim that religion and the belief in a God are defenses, and that
spiritual experiences employ the energy of repressed material, as in sublimation,
or are reaction formations to such pain.
Specifically, Janov has stated that meditation
Attacking from the other side we have Wilber (1982)
claiming that preverbal experiences are to be distinguished from transpersonal
experiences. He claims that
"[b]ecause both pre-X and trans-X are, in their own ways, non-X, they may
appear similar, even identical, to the untutured eye," whereas in reality
they are profoundly different (p. 5).
He posits a structure of linear development in
which one conceivably could "regress" to pre-X, to prepersonal experience,
and mistake it for transpersonal experience.
Therefore he would claim that such experiences as
we undergo in the phenomenon of re-experience are actual "regressions" on
the spiritual path and are antithetical to a true spiritual quest.
He would also claim a spiritual meditative practice is antithetical
to one of re-experience or "regression therapy."
Thus, unlike Janov who casts a dark light on spiritual pursuits
in affirming the importance of primal experience (re-experience), Wilber
impugns the validity of "pre-" experiences (re-experience) in affirming the
importance of spiritual and meditative experiences.
My purpose here will be to counter both theorists
in affirming that "pre-" is not distinct from "trans-," as Wilber stated,
nor primal distinct from meditation, as Janov stated.
Basically, the evolved primal therapy I participated
in differs with Janov in discovering that primal and meditation are congruent
techniques beneath their surface differences.
This is evident in the similarity of the phenomena experienced
in each and in the similarity of effects each has on the personality.
Their congruence is further indicated by the fact that transpersonal
phenomena do seem to occur to advanced primalers, contrary to Janov's claims.
Though experiences of both primalers and LSD subjects seem
to indicate that much of what is generally considered transpersonal phenomena
is derivative of traumatic life experiences, particularly those occurring
at birth or in the womb, there is much of transpersonal experience that
cannot be explained away in that manner.
The alternative explanation I am presenting rests
on the idea that the purpose of the spiritual disciplines is, as Castaneda
has termed it, to stop the "internal dialogue."
This corresponds in primal therapy to the attempts to get
"below" the rationalizations, intellectualizations, and defenses that are
laid down in the cortex, to the real body feelings underneath.
It would seem that both methods are engaged in an attempt
to delve into and experience aspects of consciousness that are nonverbal,
nonsymbolic, noncortical, and nonneurotic.
Neurosis has often been defined as a narrowing of
consciousness. One way of viewing
this is that it entails being cut off from large areas of awareness and experience
that are tied up with painful memories and feelings.
In this light it is interesting to consider a statement by
Paramahansa Yogananda, who was discussing his experience of returning to
a physical body in his reincarnation on earth.
He writes, "Like a prodigal child, I had run away from my
macrocosmic home and imprisoned myself in a narrow microcosm" (1946, p. 168).
One way of viewing the human condition, then, is
as a "neurotic" state in that it entails a narrowing of consciousness.
We see neurosis in the pathological sense as simply a more
extreme narrowing of consciousness than what is accepted as normal.
In this way we can see the function of the spiritual
disciplines, which is to increase the capacity of the individual to accept
the "larger reality," as parallel to the purpose of primal therapy, which
is to increase the capacity of the person to accept walled-off portions
of her or his personal reality.
As they apparently deal with different "levels" of reality, one might suspect
that there would be differences in technique.
But, conversely, I propose that primal and spiritual techniques
are complementary, despite their surface differences, with either being
helpful depending on the material to be worked through.
Further and more specifically, I propose that primal can
aid the spiritual process by clearing out negative material from the personal
unconscious that would otherwise distort and impede that process, whereas
spiritual techniques sometimes can be helpful in extending the arena of growth
beyond the borders of strictly primal (or personal) reality.
Janov's position that meditation is simply
an attempt at inducing relaxation, which is then called bliss and couched
in terms like "oneness with God" (1970, pp. 221-222), is an uninformed opinion
that leaves out of consideration the variety of spiritual experiences that
occur during meditation. Why
Janov might think this is understandable, however.
Explicit information on meditation experiences, especially
during the earliest stages, has not always been easy to come by.
For centuries there existed the belief that spiritual experiences
were to be kept secret and not freely discussed.
But the belief that emerges in our age is that the times
are such as to make possible certain allowances that formerly were denied.
In this vein several masters have in this century written
personal accounts of their spiritual experiences; some even have allowed
themselves to be tested by scientific methods.
Adding to this are the findings of the ever
increasing body of meditation research that has been taking place in the past
From the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda (1946)
and Swami Baba Muktananda (1974), we are able to derive a conception of
meditational experiences that is totally at variance with the notion that
it is merely an attempt at relaxation or that it is, as Wilber claimed,
distinct from "pre-" states.
Muktananda writes, for example, "Various feelings emerged during meditation,"
and "Sometimes I was happy, sometimes sad.
Alternating between smiles and tears, I continued my inward
journey" (p. 75). He talks
about innumerable movements that occur in the process of meditation (p. 77).
Most interestingly, he notes that these movements are automatic
and "continued for a prolonged period" (pp. 82-83).
"At times I hopped like a frog.
Occasionally my body moved violently as if possessed by a
spirit" (p. 78).
Muktananda explains that "the practitioners of Siddha
Yoga have a vast variety of experiences about which one neither hears nor
reads" (p. 76); that because of this an aspirant might abandon the path out
of sheer fright (p. 77). Unaware
of the variety of emotions and experiences entailed in the spiritual process,
expecting perhaps only "bliss" (or relaxation?), the aspirant may think he
or she is going insane (p. 77).
He himself, however, sees all these experiences as part of
a natural process that is cleansing in nature and makes possible access to
higher levels of consciousness.
Additional examples of these kinds of meditational
experiences are given by Kapleau (l980) and Kornfield (1979).
In fact, Kornfield reports that incidences of "spontaneous
movement" were the most common experiences reported by beginning meditators
(p. 45). He notes also that
"Meditators commonly experienced intense feeling states and frequent dramatic
changes of mood," with examples of such including "screaming mind trips,"
"violent crying," "huge release of anger," and "heavy sadness" (pp. 47-48).
In these descriptions of emotional discharge/release
we can see similarities to what is described as occurring in primal therapy.
But the descriptions of spontaneous and automatic movement
are especially interesting.
In many respects they recall the experiences that primalers with access
to their "first-line" pain (preverbal, usually surrounding birth) frequently
encounter. In fact, it is exactly
this kind of relation (between the physical and emotional experiences reported
by Kapleau, Kornfield, and others and perinatal experiences occurring outside
of the spiritual disciplines) that is noted by Bache (1981).
The bliss and equanimity described in the spiritual literature
are thus associated most strongly with the advanced stages of meditation
and should not be confused with the experiences entailed in the process of
The point is that there is more to meditation than
mere relaxation or undiluted "trans-" states.
Although evidently, as Rowan (1983) put it, "Most of what
passes for meditation has nothing much to do with mystical experiences at
all—it is just the achievement of a very calm state" (p. 21).
Still, as he continues, "it is possible to get small or large
peak experiences through meditation" (p. 21).
Thus, it appears that the techniques of relaxation have to
do with attempting to still the vagaries of pain-derived tension, the internal
dialogue, so as to gain access to areas of consciousness that are "outside"
and more fundamental than these vagaries.
And contact with those areas may not be so relaxing!
This technique is in some ways exactly opposite
to primal ones. Primal involves
the "tossing out" of all the vagaries—the manifesting in a verbal or physical
way of the tensions existing in the body at the moment.
But the results of each appear the same.
Characteristically, following a primal one finds oneself
sinking into a serene and markedly relaxed state.
It appears that spiritual techniques differ from primal in
attempting to reach that state directly by conscious control over the body/mind.
Once that state is reached, it allows further abatement of
physiological processes and, hence, access to even subtler realms of consciousness.
A primaler also can be viewed as open to subtler
energies after having reached a "cleared out" relaxed state via primaling,
and could conceivably use a technique like meditation to increase that access.
then becomes a method of dealing with the grosser manifestations of psychobiological
energy that keep the body in a tense and overdetermined state.
Once these energies are dealt with and released, it becomes
possible to employ a "mindfulness" type of meditation to deal with subtler
energies, to connect with and dissipate those subtler energies, and thereby
to gain access to subtler energies still.
Another way to look at the relation between catharsis
and calmness, and the benefits that one can have for the other, is suggested
by Heider (1974). He points
out in his article, "Catharsis in Human Potential Encounter," that "as a
rule the person actually going
through catharsis reports no feelings of fear even at times when he appeared
most fearful; it is as if there is a detached observer who knows that the
process is natural and even necessary" (p. 37).
Indeed, one can let go into extreme emotional
states time and time again and remain always aware of the "detached observer"
part of oneself. A major benefit
of catharsis is that as this continually happens one becomes increasingly
conscious of a part that is unaffected by the turmoil—the part that is there,
observing at the onset of agitation, that "sits quietly by" watching in
the midst of catharsis, and that is there to silently aid one through "reentry"
and into the calm state afterward.
Thus, catharsis makes us distinctly aware, through
contrast, of a strong, silent, unaffected self within; it makes us aware
of an "unchanging" that contrasts with all the violent changingness.
In so doing it helps us to be more in contact with that self
and its subtler pushes, pulls, and impulses—its subtler pattern.
We become increasingly aware of a more fundamental self that
is unmoved by all the chaos of consciousness.
To that extent, it corresponds to those phases of meditation
that entail the encounter with disruptive material with the admonition not
to get caught up in them, to refuse them energy by believing in them.
Indeed this attitude can be the result of catharsis.
We can release the explosive energy born of "attachment,"
in the Buddhist sense, and hence gain insight into the illusion of "maya,"
the fleeting changingness, and gain rootedness in a more inviolable self.
Brain Correlates (Wave and Structure)
The relations between these levels of growth
and the techniques under consideration can be demonstrated by their correlations
with brain wave activity.
An even more relaxed state is the delta state, which
usually is only experienced in the phase of "deep sleep."
It is unknown what exactly goes on during this state of sleep
as, unlike REM sleep, which is characterized by dreaming, this appears to
be a dreamless state. Yogananda
(1946, p. 493) has indicated that it represents a nightly return to our
roots in the infinite. Regardless,
it is a more relaxed state than even the very relaxed and creative theta
state. Theta has been called
a measure of feeling states by Janov (1974b, p. 40).
He also has brought forth research showing a trend toward
theta and delta states in advanced primalers (cf.
Janov & Holden, 1975, p. 493; Janov, 1971, pp. 214-215).
Lake (1981) also makes this connection between theta states
and integrative primal access and relivings.
Similarly, research on meditators has indicated that they
also exhibit alpha, theta, and delta wave patterns while awake, with more
advanced meditators exhibiting the slower brain-wave patterns (cf. Rama et
al., 1976, pp. 159-161; Walsh, 1979, p. 166).
We see that at least in regard to brain-wave activity
the effects of primal and meditation are parallel.
The effects include increasingly relaxed patterns and greater
synchronization. One might
speculate that the correlate of these slower rhythms is the awareness of
subtler and subtler energies (a primaler would say "feelings").
These energies and awarenesses are unavailable in the normal
beta state and could therefore be said to represent the awareness of a "larger
In addition to brain-wave activity, one might also
find correlates to this process in terms of actual parts of the brain.
Much has been made of late correlating states of consciousness
and areas of the brain along right brain/left brain lines.
Left brain dominance has come under attack and an integration
of the two is called for. It
is becoming clear that this kind of integration is an important aspect of
both the primal and spiritual processes.
Evidence for this is presented by Janov
(1973; Janov & Holden, 1975).
And evidence of this kind of integration occurs
in the spiritual disciplines, particularly in its most advanced stages (Earle,
What I am saying is that contact with subtler energies
may involve awareness of brain activity existing closer to the brainstem,
the "source" of brain activity, while normal consciousness is awareness
of brain activity that is primarily cortical.
Both the much acclaimed ability of yogis to control physiological
processes that normally are unconsciously regulated and the reports that
primalers are more aware of internal biological processes attest to this conception
of the process.
The strongest support for the alternative
explanation, however, comes from research done by Stanislav Grof with LSD.
Grof has described the reliving of traumatic experiences
from childhood, birth, and in the womb, of people under the influence of
LSD, that seem almost identical to experiences described by primalers.
Grof delineates four levels of the drug state, each
deeper than the preceding one: the aesthetic, the psychodynamic, the perinatal,
and the transpersonal. These
also represent a progression in that the usual course, over a series of LSD
sessions, is to go beyond the initial levels, after having experienced and
resolved the particular tasks/problems on those levels (1970, pp. 19-20).
Consequently, the transpersonal level is only reached by
persons in advanced stages of LSD therapy.
The psychodynamic and perinatal level experiences,
although containing additional symbolic elements not always found in the
primal process, show striking similarities to experiences of what Janov has
termed "second-line" and "first-line" pain.
First-line pain is preverbal.
It relates to traumatic experiences that occurred
en utero, at
birth, and for a period of about six months after birth.
There is a life and death urgency about these kinds of feelings,
relating as they do to a time of complete helplessness and dependence on
others and an inability to separate one's self from painful experience by
conceptualizing it. This kind
of pain often relates to matters of biological necessity, and the memories
of the traumatic experiences are registered in subcortical parts of the brain.
First-line appears to be identical to Grof's perinatal level
of the unconscious.
Second-line pain is more verbal and relates to traumatic or hurtful
events from childhood, after the child has begun to use concepts to structure
his or her experience. The memories
associated with this level are more accessible to consciousness, registered,
as they are, in the cortex.
Second-line appears to be identical to Grof's psychodynamic or biographical
The manner in which these levels are experienced,
the progression from later and more accessible to earlier and deeper, the
way that the pains are resolved, and the manner in which unresolved pains
influence postsession intervals—all seem to be similar and often identical
in the primal and the LSD experiences.
However, one striking difference exists.
Beyond the "primal" levels of the LSD experience, Grof has
described experiences of a transpersonal nature that do not appear to have
any roots in the personal pain of the participant and appear to be experiences
The experiences on this level are incredibly varied and range
from past-incarnation experiences to ancestral memories, certain kinds of
archetypal experiences, and, on what appears to be its most profound level,
consciousness of "Universal Mind" and "Metacosmic Void."
The question naturally arises as to
why primalers who are able to experience psychodynamic and perinatal phenomena
without drugs are not reported to be contacting feelings of a transpersonal
nature. Contrary to Janov's
published reports, there are some indications of it occurring.
Some long-term primalers with whom I have contact have talked
of receiving love, helping, strength, or bliss that seemed to be coming
from a place beyond the scope of their current physical existence, to be
emanating from a "higher power" of some sort.
Their descriptions have many parallels to
some descriptions of spiritual experience.
Experiences of overwhelming energy and joy have
been described. One person
used the terms "cosmic life force," "cosmic energy," and "God power" to describe
his experience. He remarked
that it was of such intensity that it would have been too much to experience
at an earlier stage in his therapy and related it to a time before he was
conceived. He said that he
had the realization that "I was three things: sperm, egg, and a cosmic life
Another primaler, Belden Johnson (1991) described
In a sort of sped-up time-lapse film
that ran quickly backwards, I went from birth to an inter-uterine state to
conception to floating in the icy vastness of space, surrounded by the faint
light pricks of distant stars.
At first my Observer-mind came in with, "Hm. Symbolic ideation.
The soul floating in space between embodiments and all that."
But he quickly changed his diagnosis:
a tiny part of the whole shtick
, old boy. An atom in space,
a mote of consciousness, a tiny fragment of the God head."
It is no coincidence that these last two experiences
revolve around conception and cellular consciousness.
Indeed, our sense is that these spiritual experiences often
are related to gaining access to a time before the first "shutdown," which
is the first time that trauma forces a retreat from one's full capabilities
and consciousness. Our experience
has been that the time before initial shutdown varies among people, but
usually ranges from before the fertilization of the egg to some time
en utero. Exactly when
and how this shutdown occurs will be the major theme of Part 2.
While the time of major shutdown appears to vary, shutting
down or retreat from full capabilities appears to happen gradually, and in
stages—with earlier access correlating with relatively more transpersonal
On the more exotic side, experiences of which I
am aware that have had a transpersonal quality to them include encounters
with and messages from "helping entity" types and infusions of colored "helping
energy." Experiences that have
had past-incarnation qualities also have been reported, but they apparently
occur only when they are important for the individual's understanding or
resolution of her or his present concerns.
All of the experiences I am reporting occurred to people
who had been primaling for a minimum of four years, working through birth
and womb material much of that time.
In addition to these reports of experiences had
in or through primaling, we note gains in equanimity similar to those described
for meditators and the occurrence of satori-like states.
Cleared of attachment to the past and the future strivings
that come of it, experiences with a marked sense of "nowness" are common.
Corresponding elements of synchronicity between inner and
outer states, effortless doing, and inner guidance appear also, correlates
for which seem primarily to be associated with the effects of long-term spiritual
Finally, we might note that there are some primalers
who are reported to experience phenomena described as archetypal and related
to the collective unconscious (McCloud, 1975).
McCloud uses the terms "transpersonal" and "mystical" to
describe the quality of the experiences inherent in contact with this area
of the unconscious. He says
that these experiences can occur during the state of "total physical calm"
that follows the "period of high physical activity or agitation" characteristic
of "direct encounter with the negative and fearful aspects of the Unconscious"
McCloud claims that experiences during these "deep inner meditative states"
may take the form of "a spontaneous (noncortical) flow of images through
the mind or, especially in more advanced persons . . . may consist of what
seems afterward to have been a total void" (p. 289).
McCloud contends that since Janov's framework does
not include such experiences, these unfamiliar and nonrational experiences
are forced into the familiar primal paradigms.
These primal rationalizations then become a defense at the
point at which deeper experiences are possible, thus preventing the full
experience of these deeper levels.
Interestingly, McCloud also claims that what is
helpful in experiencing these levels is to be given "support but little or
no direction" (p. 284), in strong contrast to Janov's directive techniques.
One might conclude from this that different experiences and
different interpretations are possible when one is allowed to discover one's
own "truth" as opposed to a preconceived one.
Anyway, as far as the "blissful" experiences mentioned,
it appears that the reason we hear little of them in regard to primal therapy
is because Janov himself has been unaware of the joyful possibilities of
the primal process. As Lonsbury
(1978) points out, Janov's is an incomplete theory of feeling based only
on feeling "Pain": All else
is labeled "crazy." Also Janov
specifically states that the goal of primal is not "happiness" (1970, p.
101), which he sees as a neurotic state (1972, pp.
164-172) but, rather, something like "contentment"
(p. 168). He sees primal people
as "scarred" people who are able to use primal to better their life situation
from the horror that it otherwise would be (1970, p. 136).
His use of the word "contentment" leads me to suspect that
he is talking about a state of reduced tension following abreaction (cf. 1970,
p. 102; l972, p. 218).
The fact is that not only are advanced primalers
dipping into areas more akin to bliss than mere contentment, but Grof also,
through his LSD research, has demonstrated the existence of positive and
joyful experiences existing alongside the negative ones at the deep perinatal
level of the psyche. Grof gives
these "positive COEX systems" the same status as the "negative COEX systems,"
which is his term for the traumatic experiences laid down in the brain needing
to be relived. Grof claims that
positive COEX systems relate to particularly blissful experiences from one's
personal life, having their deepest roots in blissful intrauterine and postnatal
The fact that Janov does not seem to know about
these positive potentials of the primal process seems to be related to his
disregard of womb experiences.
Although both LSD subjects and advanced primalers outside of Janov's Primal
Institute have often described embryonal experiences, down even to the sperm
and egg level, Janov has little to say about womb experiences in his writings
and considers sperm experience a fantasy (1974a, p. 323).
That some of the positive experiences mentioned do not begin
to happen until one has felt back to those levels, then, would help to explain
his ignorance of them.
Through my own experiences with spiritual disciplines
and primal I have come to believe that the bliss the yogis and meditators
describe is the same as the "alive" or "life force" feelings described by
primalers. Contrary to Janov's
assertion, I believe it is an error to describe this state of "spiritual"
bliss as a state of being totally cut off from one's body, as "anti-Primal."
Primalers describe the feeling of being cut off with words like "deadness"
or "numbness," never "bliss."
It would seem that some spiritual
disciplines and religions are able to give some people a taste of more "alive"
experiences than would ordinarily be possible by temporarily reducing the
amount of pain-energized cortical activity or "noise."
In Huxley's classic work,
The Doors of Perception (1954), he makes a point that there are many
"temporary by-passes" to "brain-as-reducing-valve," some of which he directly
relates to a slowdown of cortical activity through physiological means (pp.
Meditation, specifically, appears to be a method
of attempting to still the pain-driven cortical ramblings to gain access
to nonverbal experience. In
primal terms it may be said to be an attempt to bypass second-line pain and
go directly to nonconceptual first-line material.
This is not to say that some second-line
is not dealt with. In addition
to the evidence presented by Kornfield (1979) and Kapleau (1980), we might
also remember that Muktananda's journey inward was characterized by smiles
Apparently, some second-line connections were made.
Yet the meditative technique seems structured,
basically, to get "below" these
"personal" levels as soon as possible.
In meditation one attempts to maintain a "calm,
detached attitude while observing his mental processes," and the goal is
to attend to thoughts that will deepen meditation and allow other distracting
or disturbing thoughts to arise and burst without becoming involved in them
(Rama et al., 1976, pp. 149-150).
In this way the body learns to associate the
relaxed state with what had formerly been disturbing thoughts, ever productive
of cerebral "noise."
This meditation technique is vastly different from
a primal one wherein all disturbing thoughts are allowed full sway in consciousness.
Nevertheless, both do seem to provide access to underlying
nonverbal levels. In fact,
I have been told by one person who has experienced first-line pain in both
meditation and primal that the phenomena encountered are identical:
They are primarily body phenomena that the conceptual parts
of the brain can interpret in a number of ways.
In this respect, we might recall the descriptions of death-rebirth
that are so commonly found in the spiritual literature and in the ethnographies
of nonliterate peoples. Though
primalers will invariably relate their particular experiences of this sort
to their own biological births, in the psychedelic literature we find many
examples of people reliving their births and using spiritual concepts, such
as death-rebirth, to explain their experiences (although it should be noted
that often in subsequent relivings the biological elements become too obvious
Apparently, it is only in the ways that these experiences
are interpreted that shows up as a difference between them.
Janov would say, however, that this is an important difference.
For if one is interpreting these nonverbal body feelings
in spiritual or other terms, one is not linking them up with one's personal
reality or one's own experiences.
One is not "connecting"; one is not seeing how
that particular pattern of pain has influenced one's second-line pain, nor
how it has influenced one's life history and present patterns of behavior.
Thus, Janov would say that no change in those patterns of
behavior can occur.
It would seem that first-line access without connection
to second-and third-line
would keep the cortical programs intact.
Neural energies would continue proceeding along familiar
distorted pathways, and these pain-necessitated elements of the antiquated
defense system would remain to influence and distort the perceptions of one's
On the other hand, one could make a case that very
real, repressed energy is released during these first-line encounters no
matter how they are interpreted.
This energy, then, is no longer driving the excess cortical activity common
to neurotics and characteristic of the beta state.
The effect is that of less "noise," calmer brain wave activity,
and an increased capability to gain access to subtler energies.
Therefore, the fact that connections are not made
and the original cerebral pathways are not altered seems to mark the difference
between the primal and spiritual first-line encounters.
I will discuss the effects of this further on.
It should be pointed out that for
some this difference may not represent a real problem.
Some people may simply not have much second-line pain, or
even first-line pain. Apparently,
there are vast differences in the amount of pain that people carry around,
as Grof has demonstrated in reference to his LSD subjects.
He found that there were some people who, after dealing with
and reliving psychodynamic and perinatal material for a few sessions, would
proceed to transpersonal experiences for the remainder of their sessions.
This was especially true of professionals who were undergoing
the treatment as part of their training.
This was in contrast to others with manifest
neurotic and psychotic symptoms, many of whom had been hospitalized and often
required scores of sessions dealing with their personal material before proceeding
to transpersonal material (Grof, 1970, p. 2).
Also there might be cultural differences.
If we accept Rajneesh's statements that "humanity, itself,
is neurotic" because society requires that each person be "conditioned"
and "molded into a particular pattern" and not be "allowed to be just whatever
he is" (1976, p. 26); and that this may have had something to do with the
fact that the great spiritual masters, who themselves realized, could not
help the greater portion of humanity to reach enlightenment (p. 27); then
considering the evidence that Americans rank among the lowest in the world
in the general indulgence we afford our infants (Whiting & Child, 1953);
and that we are, in cross-cultural perspective, "quite severe in the general
socialization of [our] children," especially in regards to such important
events as weaning and toilet training where we have been judged to be "exceptionally
early and exceptionally severe" and "in a hurry to start the training process"
(p. 320); then we may say that we are, in some ways, more "neurotic" than
many other cultures. Considering
all this we might question why we think we can just adopt, wholesale, the
techniques that have been developed down through the centuries and, especially,
for use in other cultures.
For if, as Rajneesh says, the spiritual techniques don't work because they
do not address humanity as it is (i.e., neurotic), then they may be said
to be even less applicable to a modern "severely conditioned" (and more traumatized)
In this same vein, it is interesting how often yogis
and spiritual masters speak of having had uneventful childhoods and loving
parents. Paramahansa Yogananda
mentions this in respect to his childhood.
And it is not inconceivable that this may have had something
to do with the seeming lack of "demons" with which he had to contend and
with the exceptionally blissful, beautiful, and loving perception of the
infinite that he presents in his autobiography.
The spiritual explanation for these differences
in levels of primal pain has been that the yogi-to-be has worked through
most of his or her karma in previous lifetimes, and that there is a link
between karmic influences and the "life situation" to which one returns,
which would include the amount of first- and second-line pain to which one
is subjected. This notion of
a link between karmic influences and one's "life situation" is not found
only in the spiritual literature.
For example, Grof (1976) notes that LSD experiences
of previous incarnations sometimes occur alongside experiences involving
the reliving of disturbances of intrauterine life (pp. 108-109).
In discussing the experiences of one such
subject, he writes as follows:
[H]e was . . . experiencing episodes
that appeared to be past-incarnation memories.
It seemed as if elements of bad karma entered his present
life in the form of disturbances of his embryonal existence and as negative
experiences during the period he was nursed.
He saw the experiences of the "bad womb" and "bad breast"
as transformation points between the realm of the karmic law and the phenomenal
world governed by natural laws as we know them.
Similarly, Yogananda (1946) writes,
"The pranic lifetrons in the spermatazoa and ova . . . guide the development
of the embryo according to a karmic design" (p. 478n).
At any rate, for many people the amount of personal
pain they carry would certainly seem restrictive, if not downright prohibitive,
of the spiritual path. In these
cases meditation can become long and arduous.
The effect of a lot of second-line, repressed pain can be
that one's meditation is continually plagued by disturbing thoughts and feelings
rooted in various unconscious trauma.
it is true that one can open up to such completely forgotten experiences.
Thus confronted, one could hardly remain calm and unaffected.
In this way meditation can be disruptive and might even lead
one into therapy. It is becoming
increasingly known that this is not an uncommon result of meditation (cf.
Epstein & Leiff, 1981; Walsh, 1979, p. 164).
Consequently, some people enter primal therapy this way.
For these people it seems that primal is helpful in
allowing them to relive these repressed experiences, thereby revealing connections
to their troublesome conscious derivatives.
This defuses such mental contortions and allows meditation
to be practiced with less of these distractions.
Or, in terms of the mechanics of meditation as described
by Rama et al. (1976, pp. 149-151),
the disturbing thoughts are allowed to invade consciousness totally and
have complete sway. But as
in doing so they reveal their origins, they are sent back to the unconscious,
"elaborated" and "weighted" though they may be, but bound to their historical
roots. Thus, when they arise
again, either spontaneously in meditation or triggered outside meditation,
they do not produce further elaborations—as in worrying, trying to figure
them out, or self-abasement.
And, if all elements of the complex have been uncovered, they can be much
more easily dismissed by consciousness.
The effect is that of aiding meditation in its attempt at dissipating
thoughts, which are now mere tracings rather than stopped-up cauldrons.
It would seem that without a primal-type therapy, meditation
could allow some gains in terms of glimpses of reality outside of one's inner
dialogue, and some in terms of helping to dissipate the causes of that dialogue.
Yet as long as there are experiences that are completely cut
off from consciousness, and that, continually charged as they are, produce
troublesome and distracting thoughts that feed the inner dialogue and must
forever be dissipated, then meditation would not seem to be as effective in
eliciting the gains that are possible.
Under these circumstances meditation can become
a defense and a struggle and serve to prohibit further growth (cf. Amodeo,
1981, p. 152; Epstein & Leiff, 1981, p. 145).
Unclean Mysticism (Cerebral Distortion)
For many people the result of spirituality without primaling or some other
cathartic technique is the existence of symbolized pain, the many "demons"
within that must constantly be fought,
resisted, and pushed out of the way in order to get glimpses of the underlying
bliss, beauty, and love. It
is thus interesting to note the amount of evil, fear, and ugliness that
is encountered in certain disciplines, especially primitive ones.
Castaneda's works contain much of this, and at one point
he indicates why this is so in a manner that is parallel to the point being
He had just had an encounter with the "allies," which
he had seen as grotesque monsters.
In describing this to his companion, la Gorda, he
begins to realize that she, who had been there also, had not seen the same
things as he:
"The allies have no form," she said when I had
finished. "They are like a
presence, like a wind, like a glow.
The first one we found tonight was a blackness
that wanted to get inside my body. . . .
The others were just colors.
Their glow was so strong, though, that it made the trail
look as if it were daytime."
And further on:
"Why do I see them as
monsters?" I asked.
"That's no mystery," she
said. "You haven't lost your
human form yet. The same thing
happened to me. I used to see
the allies as people; all of them were Indian men with horrible faces and
They used to wait for me in deserted places.
I thought they were after me as a woman.
The Nagual used to laugh his head off at my fears.
But still I was half dead with fright.
One of them used to come and sit on my bed and shake it until
I would wake up. The fright
that ally used to give me was something that I don't want repeated, even
now that I'm changed. Tonight
I think that I was as afraid of the allies as I used to be."
"You mean that you don't
see them as human beings anymore?"
The Nagual told you that an ally is formless.
He is right.
An ally is only a presence, a helper that is nothing and yet is as real
as you and me." (1977, pp.
The "human form" referred to here is identical to what
I have been calling the familiar cerebral pathways; one might also say "persona,"
ego, or "unreal self." It is
the pain and culturally determined cerebral overlay through which we perceive
reality. Presumably a person
with less pain, or with access to a primal-type therapy, would have fewer
"monsters" getting in the way of clear perception.
Or, in Rowan's (1983, p. 24) words, "For the first time we
can have a clean mysticism, not cluttered up with womb stuff, birth stuff,
oral stuff, anal stuff, oedipal stuff, shadow stuff, anima stuff." Thus,
it is not that the existence of pain prevents larger perceptions; rather,
it distorts them and makes them less accessible.
It appears that some spiritual disciplines allow one
to open up to parts of the mind that are preneurotic, but that in order to
do so they often must cut through an incredible maze of symbolized pain and
cultural overlay. Considering
the myriad forms that this kind of distortion makes possible, one can speculate
that it has much to do with accounting for the extent and variety of the
spiritual phenomena that we see exhibited in the spiritual literature.
Such distortions also can be viewed as contributing strongly
to the diversity of religious concept, ritual, and artifact.
Although the underlying reality may be the same for all of
us and account for the similarities in concept and phenomena (as emphasized
by Jung and others), the cerebral overlay can be seen to account for the
vastly different contents of such.
The contribution of a primal
perspective, then, is twofold.
First, it becomes obvious that the "demons," the "monsters," the resulting
fear are not "real" (in terms of being rooted in transpersonal or "objective"
reality). Rather, they are personal
elements invading the perception of transpersonal reality.
Behind the personal fear and pain we discover a more pervasive
beauty and bliss, we sense an essentially benign universe characterized by
grace and love. Second, the
primal perspective allows us to see that much of the exotic phenomena as
described in the spiritual literature is a consequence of personal pain and
predilection and is not real in the transpersonal sense.
These two conclusions are sustained by the evidence
that primalers are finding access to "cosmic life force" and "bliss" feelings
often described in the spiritual literature, without having to contend with
the monsters and demons, nor with the extravaganza of other-worldly description,
which are concomitant to the life-force descriptions in the spiritual literature.
Although one may reach deeper levels through various techniques,
the deeper perceptions often are interpreted in terms of the highly symbolizing
cortex. Bliss or life-force
feelings are felt as immensely stronger and bigger than one's self, in relation
to a consciousness narrowed by personal pain and culture.
And thus, they lend themselves readily to hyperbole and transpersonal
Primal therapy performs its desymbolizing function,
making the exotic phenomena superfluous, by connecting the symbolic material
pervading normal consciousness to real-life events.
This dissipates the value of any such symbolic material as
something in its own right.
In primal this demythologizing process is apparent where many of the activities
and fantasies of daily life are found to be "act outs," that is, symbolizations
of past pain: One reaches for
a cigarette as symbolic of an unsatisfied need to nurse; or one becomes
a writer because one was never listened to; or one travels the globe as
symbolic of a need to be free of a constricting home environment in childhood.
But it seems that some of the deeper and more sensational
experiences also are symbolic of primal pain.
Even some of the "archetypal" experiences appear to be derivative
of still deeper material. For
example, I have relived a postnatal experience that involved the cutting,
scrubbing, and general abuse of my body (which was part of postnatal infant
"care" in hospitals when I was born).
I can see where I could easily have imbued the
experience with fantasy elements of an archetypal "Terrible Mother."
I did not choose to do so, because that would have meant
turning what was obviously a personal reality into a fantasy and into something
"transpersonal." Yet I can
also see where someone without access to the personal memory part of the
experience would be left with only the fantasy.
The experiences evident in primal therapy strongly indicate
that much of what has usually been termed "transpersonal" are, in fact, symbolically
derived from personal life experiences in the "personal unconscious," and
that their seeming universality is related to our biological universality,
especially as it concerns our gestation and birth.
Grof's research also indicates that much of the exotic
phenomena is symbolized preverbal pain.
Concerning first-line or perinatal phenomena
under LSD, he notes
[T]he encounter with death
on the perinatal level takes the form of a profound firsthand experience of
the terminal agony that is rather complex and has emotional, philosophical,
and spiritual as well as distinctly physiological facets.
(1976, p. 96)
But then he also points
In a way that is not quite
clear at the present stage of research, the above experiences seem to be related
to the circumstances of the biological birth.
LSD subjects frequently refer to them quite
explicitly as reliving of their own birth trauma.
Those who do not make this link and conceptualize
their encounter with death and the death-rebirth experience in a purely
philosophical and spiritual framework quite regularly show the cluster of
physical symptoms described earlier that can best be interpreted as a derivative
of the biological birth. They
also assume postures and move in complex sequences that bear a striking
similarity to those of a child during various stages of delivery.
In addition, these subjects frequently report visions of
or identification with embryos, fetuses, and newborn children.
Equally common are various authentic neonatal feelings as
well as behavior, and visions of female genitals and breasts.
The fact that primalers relive these intrauterine and
birth experiences without all of the accompanying symbolism, as exhibited
in both the psychedelic and spiritual literatures,
is evidence of a desymbolized cortex, less obscure in its perceptions.
In fact, there is a pattern seen in the LSD research as well
as, to a limited extent, in primal therapy:
Upon subsequent relivings of a traumatic experience, such
as one's birth, there is a tendency for initial, highly symbolized encounters
with the material to be followed by sessions containing less symbolism.
Typically, this occurs until the event finally is able to
be accepted and relived in its real-life historical detail and, often, biological
brutality (cf. Grof, 1976, pp. 68-69, 56, 58-60; 1977, p. 12).
But although the experiences of primalers and LSD subjects
serve to dispel much of what is thought of as transpersonal phenomena, there
still is much that cannot be explained away as derivative of primal pain.
I'm not sure that I agree with Grof in the extent to which
he attributes transpersonal status to certain elements that are intermingled
with perinatal phenomena. He
writes, for example: "Perinatal experiences represent a very important intersection
between individual psychology and transpersonal psychology" (1976, p. 99).
But even without the pain-tainted elements, many of which
have been called archetypal, it becomes increasingly hard to disregard his
evidence for transpersonal phenomena on what appears to be a deeper level
of the unconscious than even the perinatal.
Certainly the prenatal arena has transpersonal overtones.
Sperm and egg experiences themselves, in that they transcend
the normal space/time boundaries of the personal in implicating a mechanism
of memory that is nonphysical, are categorized by Grof as transpersonal
beyond even that, the evidence from LSD research and the current spiritual
literature suggests that the transpersonal level may be more expansive and
varied than even Jung had envisioned.
Janov might dismiss these transpersonal experiences
as "overload" phenomena, that is, as fantasies occurring out of released,
painful energy that is too great to be dealt with.
But because they occur when the perinatal phenomena have
been thoroughly, not incompletely, worked through, and because they have
such far-reaching and positive effects on personality and later behavior,
I do not think they can be so easily discarded.
Some of these experiences, especially in the parapsychological
realm (such as ESP, clairvoyance, and ancestral memories), have even found
verification with an astonishing degree of accuracy in Grof's follow-up research
(1976, pp. 164-167, cf. p. 207).
Even the primal perspective, which
points to the existence of memory and consciousness at the fetal, single
cell, and sperm and egg level, certainly would have to acknowledge such awareness
to have more subtle underpinnings than the brain and spinal cord.
All of this points to the existence of something that
is subtler than the physical body and undergirds the entire length of one's
physical life. The evidence
also seems to suggest that this subtler self permeates much of matter and
life in realms outside of the personal domain and therefore can be accurately
Cellular/ Transpersonal Experiences
Having established the
legitimacy of transpersonal aspects of prenatal, and especially cellular,
re-experience, it remains to be seen what light this new perspective throws
upon traditional formulations.
I suggest to you that this perspective is a catalyst to a radical reformulation
of traditional concepts of consciousness and development.
My understanding is that it supports a view compatible with
Eastern, Platonic, and "primitive" philosophical renderings—which can be
characterized as Emanationist
—and completely undermines the dominant Western evolutionary paradigm.
I delineate such a perspective beginning in Chapter Four.
However, let us take a look at a sampling of the kinds
of experiences and perspectives that are possible at this cellular and prenatal
level of re-experience before attempting to see deeper into the structure
of consciousness and development, presented immediately afterwards, which
contains and makes sense of them.
The chapter that follows contains transcripts of cellular/transpersonal
experiences I had through the modality of holotropic breathwork.
These transcripts are only slightly edited and are from the
descriptions of my experiences I recorded immediately after having them.
I will be using the terms
and feeling one's
We began to use the term feeling
instead of primaling
partly to counteract the impression fostered by Janov that all feeling
outside of primaling is unreal, that there is a basic difference between
primals and normal feelings.
Although there is a great difference in quality and intensity, and
to that extent a new term is justified, normal feelings are not separate
from primal feelings.
are the tip of the iceberg, and are used to get to their roots in primal
feelings. [return to text
2. The quote is from Spike
(1974). See also the interviews
in the Journal of Primal Therapy
(1974) for other changes in the conceptions of early primal. [
return to text
3. This kind of criticism
is relevant here in that it represents a common attitude toward the
position I have taken. However,
the issue is too complex to be dealt with in other than skeletal form
at this point.
Let me say that Wilber's
theory strikes me as a curiously dualistic way of interpreting a nondichotomous
reality. And although his
reasoning is tight and internally consistent, I believe it excludes
the evidence of transpersonal experience as exhibited in the spiritual,
psychedelic, and ethnographic literature, or the evidence of meditation
research. For, as Epstein
and Leiff, (1981, p. 140) wrote in commenting on Wilber's distinctions
between supposed pre- and transpersonal experience: "In fact, meditation
experiences embody all of the above.
Confusion arises when meditation is analyzed as one discrete state,
rather than as a developmental process."
Thus, I differ with Wilber in that I do not see preegoic influences
as counter to a transcendental path; rather, I see them as distortions to
be worked through. This
stems from the basic difference between our developmental frameworks
in that Wilber sees a linearity, and I see a dialectic in which a transcendental
jump "forward" may require an incorporative "backward" step.
I do not see growth at all as a linear progression, but
more like an expanding outward.
What we find, in primal anyway, is that one actually is more adult when
one can let one's self be childlike at times.
Wilber's theory seems to exclude the possibility that
the "healthiest" state may be, as many have described it, one in which
we have access all the way "up" and "down" the "spectrum," in which
we can travel unafraid
through all the rooms of our house.
In this context
regression can seem a meaningless term and discussion of it appear
spurious. [ return to text
4. I was surprised to discover,
after originally proposing this relation between catharsis and meditation,
that Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh had already made the same kind of formulation
coming at it from a different direction.
It is described in his book,
Meditation: The Art of Ecstasy (1976).
See especially the chapter on "Chaotic Meditation." [
return to text
5. Grof (1980, p. 10) acknowledges
the convergence of LSD therapy and primal therapy. [return
6. Third-line is
the level of consciousness relating outward in the present. [
return to text
7. An example of this sort of thing is give by Amodeo (1981).
The method used to overcome this block is one that is
a crucial feature of primal therapy. [return to text
8. Muktananda describes
one of his spiritual experiences in which he visits "hell" (1974, pp.
114-115), which is a world filled with excrement.
His description has striking parallels to some LSD experiences
noted by Grof (1976), wherein this is said to be associated with "the
contact with such biological materials and the termination of the agonizing
experience of birth" (pp.
130-131). [return to text