A PRIMAL PERSPECTIVE ON
ABSTRACT: Contrary to Janov's assertion that spiritual
experience is derivative of primal pain, there is evidence that primalers are
encountering transpersonal phenomena at a deeper level of the primal process. I
rely on my experiences and those of other long-term primalers, along with the
evidence of meditation and LSD research and the current spiritual literature, in
proposing an alternative explanation of the relationship between catharsis and
spiritual process in which they are seen as complementary, not opposed,
processes. At a certain level of the spiritual process "primal-type"
experiences often occur, no matter how interpreted. A primal-type therapy,
therefore, can be an invaluable, perhaps indispensable, aid in higher
consciousness. Primal therapy reduces the symbolic clutter and cerebral
"noise" that characteristically obscure the perception of spiritual
realities. It thereby enables spiritual access that would be unavailable to some
people conceived into less than ideal life situations. Beyond the primal-type
levels of the spiritual process, deeper levels are encountered that do not give
indications of containing elements of repressed pain or need, and that can be
accurately termed transpersonal. Therefore, primal therapy and meditation
represent an identity of ends and an antithesis of means. Both catharsis and
meditation are techniques to help us to "be" where we are
"at" and thereby to be more fully in a "process" that
transcends techniques. For "when we are 'on track,' the process takes over,
leading us onward to more encompassing realms, regardless of how we get 'on
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
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"1
for over a decade, I would like to present an explanation of the relationship
between the primal and spiritual processes as an alternative to Janov's
mechanistic one. I will rely on my own experiences and those of several other
primalers as they have been related to me. I also will rely on the important
work with LSD that Stanislav Grof (1970, 1976, 1977, 1980) 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 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.
It 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 it, 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 "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 person achieves'"2) 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," preverbal feelings.
Other of the early inaccuracies eventually were cleared up in
practice. The primal therapy I experienced in Denver in 1975 was an evolved
version of primal as originally described by Janov (1970), or as initially
presented to me in Toronto 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 occurred elsewhere.
And, indeed, this article may be considered part of that continued evolution.
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
AN ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATION
This article is part of a development in primal in that it is an
attempt to correct what I see as one more 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 is
Basically, I differ with Janov in that I believe that primal and
meditation are congruent techniques beneath their surface differences. I believe
that 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 on 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.3
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 unconsciousness 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
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
states, 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 decade.
From the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda (1946) and, more
recently, 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. 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 "continue 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
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" e 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
states of meditation and should not be confused with the experiences entailed in
the process of getting there.
The point is that there is more to meditation than mere
relaxation. Although evidently, as Rowan (1983) put it recently, "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.4 Primal
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
"Beta waves on the EEG correspond to normal waking
while alpha indicates a more relaxed, tranquil state. The
consciousness correlated with theta waves, which are even slower
than alpha, is characterized by dream-like or
state during which one is immersed in a world of images. It
has long been known that these dream-like states (called
"hypnogogic experiences") play some part in scientific
artistic creation. (Rama, Ballentine, & Ajaya, 1976, pp.
An even more relaxes 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). 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 reality."
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, 1981).
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.5
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 drug experience.
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 level.
The manner in which these levels are experienced, the
progression from later and more accessible to deeper and earlier, 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 sui generis. 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
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 force."
Indeed, our sense is that these 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.
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 the 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" (p. 288). 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 bases 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 live 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 is 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 (1974, 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 "antiprimal." Primalers describe the feeling of
being cut off with words like "deadness" or "numbness,"
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. 23-24).
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 and tears. 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
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 to ignore).
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-line7 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 deeper experiences.
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.
DIFFERENCES IN PAIN
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
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
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
of the "bad womb" and "bad breast" as
between the realm of the karmic law and the phenomenal world
governed by natural laws as we know them." (pp. 109-110).
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.8 In meditation 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 or 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 made here.
He had just had an encounter with the "allies" that 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
tonight was a blackness that wanted to get inside my body . . .
.The others were just colors. Their glow was so strong, thought, 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 mean
looks. They used to wait for me in deserted places. I thought
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.
fright was that 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
"No. Not anymore. The Nagual told you that an ally is
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
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 descriptions.
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 can
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
The experiences evident in primal therapy strongly indicate that
much of what has usually been termed "transpersonal" is, in fact,
symbolically derived from personal life experiences in the "personal
unconscious," and that its 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. je mptes"
"[T]he encounter with death on the perinatal level takes
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 out:
"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. The 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. (p.96).
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,9 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.
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. Indeed, the evidence from LSD research and the current
spiritual literature suggest 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, 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 that 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 termed transpersonal.
CATHARSIS AND CALMNESS
Another perspective on this subject is suggested by Heider
(1974). He says that an emphasis on catharsis is rooted in "a model of
growth and transcendence based on the concept of the sudden satori" (p.41),
which is considered unrealistic. It is true that this situation existed among
many primalers. Many of us initially, and in line with Janov's assertions, did
assume this dependence on and/or expectation of the "big primal": the
primal that would make it all different and change our lives forever. In fact,
letting go of this expectation began to be seen as a mark distinguishing
advanced from beginning primalers. More experienced primalers began to see
primal as a tool, not an end in itself. We began to see ourselves as growing and
living both inside and outside of our primaling, and to see feelings as going on
all the time, not just when we were lying down and "catharting."
The initial confusion, however, is understandable, considering
the inaccurate impression engendered by the early primal that all feeling that
is not primaling is somehow unreal. This myth serves to negate all that passes
through one and all that one feels between primal experiences. Janov was trying
to make a point, and an important one at that: Much of what goes on inside one's
self is, in fact, elements of primal complexes and therefore is not accurate
perceptions of self, others, and world. But an important facet to this is that
it remains important to "be" with all that material, whether
objectively valid or not, in order that one may link it all together and have
the connections and insights that can occur during those catalyzing events
called primals. For if we do not "be" with our illusions, we cannot
know them. Hence, how can we discard them?
Certainly the awesomeness of some forms of catharsis, the energy
release involved, helps one to downplay the significance of the in-between
times. But subsequently such plateau or calm spots, preparation or postcathartic
periods, even the activities of our daily life, took on an importance previously
unacknowledged. We began to understand that it is not a matter of catharsis for
catharsis's sake, or just of emptying one's "Primal Pool," in Janov's
In that sense I am in agreement with Heider's (1974, p. 41)
direction in leaving an emphasis on catharsis and beginning "to rely
heavily upon spiritual disciplines, both as preparation for the release of
tension and as a maintenance program designed to enhance and prolong the
desirable effects of the encounter experience." For, using meditation in
the sense that Rajneesh (1976) does, that of being with where one is in the here
and now, it makes perfect sense to me that a spiritual regimen can and should be
used during the in-between times to help us to stop and be aware of the
continuing process within us, if that is what it takes.
An important sidelight, however, is that for many primalers this
sort of structuring may be unnecessary. As mentioned, the results of primaling,
in the postcathartic period, may be the same as the results of meditation.
Consequently, for many advanced primalers access is only too apparent during the
between times. Therefore, to "be" where one is often only requires
that we leave off avoiding, through distracting ourselves in work, sex, alcohol,
drugs, food, and various other ways, the primal/spiritual process that continues
within us between sessions. At this point it becomes a matter of staying open to
Experience/Process, allowing it to flow through and teach us.
In fact, there is the known danger in using a spiritual
technique that it can be used to defend against "process." As Epstein
and Leiff (1981, p. 145) put it, "Meditation experiences may be used in
both adaptive and defensive ways." And a meditation that is used solely to
force us into relaxation or into a concentration with a specific focus as a way
to defend against "process" and the occasional peaks and valleys that
are part of it would, in my opinion, be antiprimal, indeed would be
antispiritual, antimystical, antigrowth.
Therefore, in general I agree with Heider's shift in emphasis
away from catharsis and to the postcathartic period, but not nearly to the
extent to which he apparently has. For I do not see a need to
"transcend" catharsis or go "beyond" it as he does.
Certainly Grof, Muktananda, and others would concur that even the outer reaches
of transpersonal experience do not entail a cessation of conflict, resolution,
growing, and learning. Similarly, Epstein and Leiff (1981, p. 144) have pointed
out that "meditation can be viewed as a developmental process which can
produce side effects anywhere along the continuum," and so one would wonder
why we would leave off catharsis as a tool for dealing with such blocks.
I should point out that the experience of nearly all primalers
is that the need to cathart becomes less as time goes on. But additionally, I do
not see a need to posit a point beyond catharsis, for I do not see anything
wrong with catharsis,10 with enjoying the capacity to experience intensity of
ecstasy, desolation, or insight. It seems to me that this capacity can add color
and vitality to our lives. Indeed, it may be that which, at times, makes us feel
we are alive!
A passage from the I Ching may help to clarify this point. It is
possible that because of our Appolonian Western heritage we have a tendency to
view an unaffected, somehow undisturbable state (as in our common conceptions of
the results of meditation) as a goal. But not all cultures and spiritual
disciplines posit it as such. In the Wilhelm/Baynes classic translation of the
ancient work it is written, "While Buddhism strives for rest through an
ebbing away of all movement in nirvana, the Book of Changes holds that rest is
merely a state of polarity that always posits movement as its complement"
(p.201). Apparently, an unmovable state is seen as neither desirable nor
possible; it is indicative of death rather than greater life.
It continues further on:
"True quiet means keeping still when the time has come to
still, and going forward when the time has come to go forward.
In this way rest and movement are in agreement with the demands
of the time, and thus there is light in life.
When a man has thus become calm, he may turn to the outside
world. He no longer sees in it the struggle and tumult of individual beings,
and therefore he has that true peace of mind which is needed for
understanding the great laws of the universe and for acting in
harmony with them. Whoever acts from these deep levels makes no
Such it is that we can be in the midst of life, fully
experiencing it, and yet be aware of its illusionary quality, hence be
unattached to it and more able to flow with it. Let us say "Zorba the
From this view we see that it is our attitude toward intense
experiences, not whether or not we have them, that is important. The I Ching
addresses this in the hexagram, "The Arousing (Shock/Thunder)":
"[T]he shock causes no loss, because one takes care to stay in the center
of the movement and in this way to be spared the fate of being tossed hither and
One is reminded of Heider's statement that new members of a
group may be badly frightened in viewing another member who, in the midst of
catharsis, feels no feelings of fear about it (1974, p.37). Or, as one primaler
put it, "It is not feeling one's feelings that is really painful" (cf.
Janov, 1970, pp. 98-99). Thus, by plunging in and surrendering to it, one can be
aware of a calm center within the chaos that is imperceptible on the periphery.
Or, in another primaler's words, "The only way out is all the way in."
Thus, it is a matter of whether or not we get caught up in
intense experiences and make them part of a personal drama ("acting
out" is the primal way of saying it), or we simply allow them to flow
through us. In the first case, we give these feelings a status in our lives they
do not deserve and increase the time required to work through them; in the
second, we maintain an attitude as of a channel for experience, not an
originator of it.
In this regard, we note Grof's statement that at advanced levels
of transpersonal experience, beyond ego death and rebirth, "it becomes . .
. a cosmic adventure in consciousness aimed at solving the riddles of personal
identity, human existence, and the universal scheme" (1980, p. 215). Or in
other words, we still carry water, but we are not attached to it.
Therefore, I am saying that much has been made of a difference
between primal and meditation for what is primarily a difference in technique.
Both can be seen as ways of attuning us to a spiritual/growth process that is
common to us all, affecting our daily happenings and the life choices and
directions we take in either direct or distorted fashion.
For meditation the confusion seems to have arisen from viewing it as the sole
means to growth, rather than simply a means to get in touch with a process that
is growthful both inside and outside of meditation. And when we open up, what
arises always is different from what we expect and includes all sorts of
phenomena and experiences, all linked to our growth and resolving our blocks.
Likewise, an important benefit of primal is that it can teach us
an attitude of surrender to process. That we can throw ourselves, time and
again, into the maelstrom of catharsis and still, somehow, be upheld and even
embraced, despite ourselves, gives us confidence in a beneficent universe and
allows us to foster surrender in our attitudes to the pushes and pulls of
process as it makes itself known to us in our daily life.
Both meditation and primal can be seen as techniques to help us
"be" where we are "at." And to be most fully where we are
means to be most fully in process. So it is just that at times they employ
different means to bet us in touch with the underlying flow that is the
epigenetic protagonist of healing and creation, growth and transcendence. And
once attuned to process, one can "be here" while working, walking,
primaling, or engaging in "zazen"; it then becomes ludicrous to talk
of different techniques or different levels of growth. Ultimately, when we are
"on track" the process takes over, leading us onward to more
encompassing realms, regardless of how we get on track. Evidence for this is
given by meditation research as cited by Earle (1981). Although physiological
correlates differ with different techniques at beginning levels, later stages
show a convergence of the correlates.
There are striking similarities in the descriptions of the
deep-level growthful experiences found in the spiritual literature, the
psychedelic literature, the ethnographic literature, and in some of our primal
reports. But what we find, in primal anyway, is that the psych "heals"
itself, if only allowed to do so, and in a way that is reminiscent of the way
the body does. And so it is not so surprising that the manner in which it does
so would be so similar in different places, at different times, and using
different techniques for allowing it.
It is equally not surprising that we should find examples of
spiritual phenomena occurring during primaling or "primal" phenomena
occurring during meditation, or either occurring under LSD. For why would we
expect to have anything but a common heritage and for reality to be other than
itself? Is it not only our dichotomizing mind that construes such dualities to
obscure and make more difficult the path that we commonly tread, that tragically
serves to neutralize the compassion and interrelatedness that we would otherwise
The point being made is that the primal process of which we
speak is the same as the spiritual process. Both catharsis and calmness are
natural parts of the same flow, mingling and alternating with each other, and
emanating from each other, sometimes in a linear way. This flow is a natural
process of creation that encompasses both types of phenomena, the agonies and
ecstasies of existence, and harmonizes all of reality, both internal and
external, in a pattern that is unique for every individual and oriented toward
one's patient unfolding in the path of exquisiteness.
1. I will be using the terms "primaling" and
"feeling one's feelings" interchangeably. We began to use the term
"feeling feelings" 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. They are the tip of the iceberg, and are used to get to their
roots in primal feelings.
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
3. Wilber (1980) has attempted to distinguish prepersonal from
transpersonal experiences: He states, "Because both pre-X and trans-X are,
in their own ways, non-X, they may appear similar, even identical, to the
untutured eye" (p.5). And he warns against confusing preegoic with
transegoic and prerational with transrational states. 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.
This kind of criticism is relevant to an article of this sort 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 here.
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.
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."
5. Grof (1980, P. 10) acknowledges the convergence of LSD
therapy and primal therapy in a recent work.
6. The reports come primarily from my network of acquaintances.
A more exhaustive report is difficult for a variety of reasons. I encourage
anyone encountering unusual experiences in their primaling to share their
accounts with me.
7. Third-line is the level of consciousness relating outward in
8. 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
9. 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).
10. But Heider certainly does find something wrong with
catharsis, and our differences bring up an important point. He points out that
he left off inducing catharsis because of post cathartic depression that would
ensue. it is my opinion that occasional catharsis can have just that sort of
effect if we acknowledge the depths of primal and perinatal phenomena extending
all the way back through birth and womb material. Therefore, anything short of a
thorough working through of these deeper levels always will leave one
susceptible to relapses, postcathartic depressions, and return of symptoms in
that these catharses represent further access as well as resolution.
To that extent, I believe that Heider has not gone far enough
with catharsis to those areas where the most substantial gains can be made
(although even then we can expect"relapses" if we employ the model
that Grof, among others, presents of "enlightenment" being an attitude
toward the process of becoming, of adventuring deeper into the cosmos, rather
than a static serene state of inaction). Grof has shown us how deep one often
must go before one can expect real resolution; or, in other words, just how deep
within us, and how far into our past, the roots of our present concerns extend.
Amodeo, J. (1981). Focusing applied to a case of disorientation
meditation. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 13 (2),
Bache, C. (1981). On the emergence of perinatal symptoms in
meditation. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 20
(4), 339- 350.
Castaneda, C. (1977). The Second Ring of Power. New York: Simon
Earle, J. (1981). Cerebral laterality and meditation: A review
of the literature. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 13 (2), 155-173.
Epstein, M., & Leiff, J. (1981). Psychiatric complications
practice. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 13 (2), 137-147.
Grof, S. (1970). Behind psychoanalysis I: Implications of LSD
for understanding dimensions of human personality. Darshana
International, 10 (3), 55-73.
Grof, S. (1976). Realms of the Human Unconscious. New York:
Grof, S. (1980). LSD Psychotherapy. Pomona, CA: Hunter House.
Grof, S., and Halifax, J. (1977). The Human Encounter With
Death. New York: Dutton.
Heider, J. (1974). Catharsis in human potential encounter.
Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 14 (4), 27-47.
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New York: Harper & Row.
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* This article was originally published in 1985
in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology. It represents the changes
that occurred in Primal Therapy after its introduction by Arthur Janov in The
Primal Scream in 1970. These changes are even more important and
relevant today than they were in 1985. It is hard, today, to find all but
hard-core Janovians who do not believe that Primal makes one more, not less,
open to spirituality and spiritual experience. Also, what this article
says about Primal being a natural process of allowing, as opposed to
being directive or authoritarian, is what distinguishes real Primal Therapy from
"mock Primal," or, indeed, from any other counseling or psychotherapy
in existence. With one exception. That is, Holotropic Breathwork as
developed by Stanislav Grof. Dr. Grof has trained thousands of HB
facilitators and a hallmark of his training is the nondirective approach of the
facilitator, the importance of "less being more," and the supreme
importance of the Inner Guide or Inner Authority in the experiencer, this Inner
Guide being the real Director of the experience and of the healing and
growth. While Grof never used the words "the psyche heals
itself," as I have in this article, he very well might have. At any
rate, this article represents the prospects and approaches of Primal Therapy
that are consistent with Arthur Janov's initial exposition of Primal, but which
were only discovered, later, by primalers who, unlike Janov himself, actually did
the therapy, or, more correctly, actually persevered in the therapy to the
"farther reaches" of it. Finally, this article presents a view
of the author's approach to Primal, for those who may be considering therapy at
the Primal Spirit Center, directed by the author and his wife.
MICKEL ADZEMA's bio can be found at Mickel
Adzema's writings. E-mail, click on email@example.com.
Copyright © 1985 by Michael D. Adzema
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