… a cartography of the psyche …

Celestial Rose - Gustave Doré

Celestial Rose – Gustave Doré

My novels (yet to be published) are inspired by transpersonal incidents I experienced, even as a child. Learning that I was not alone with my interpretations of what happened to me during so-called non-ordinary states of consciousness was a great relief, when during the 70s and 80s I explored, in practice and theory, the major maps of psychology. Jung’s ideas especially rhymed. After training with Psychosynthesis, my interest turned sharply to innovative transpersonal approaches, myth, archetypal psychology, and contemporary science.

People who inspired me were Abraham Maslow, Gregory Bateson, David Bohm, Joseph Campbell and others, many who happened to be among the same people Stanislav Grof met and was supported by when he devoted his life to map the experiences of non-ordinary states of consciousness.

For the first ten years Grof did psychedelic research in Czechoslovakia. By the 70s he had found a family of open-minded scientists and enthusiastic supporters at the Californian Esalen Institute. Since the use of psychedelics became illegal, he developed the Holotropic Breathwork, together with his with wife, Christina.

Around this time I found my own, smaller family of mind and heart in England, where Fazal Inayat Khan saw the huge potential of what was to be the transpersonal psychology movement initiated in Esalen. Fazal involved his students in experiential approaches to self-development, an endeavour that brought him into conflict with the traditional Chisti Tariqa his grandfather Hazrat Inayat Khan had established in the west as Sufi Movement, which Fazal represented at this point. I co-edited ‘Heart of a Sufi,’ a prism of reflections on Fazal by his students. Here is a previous post https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/a-rare-book-now-on-line/

Grof sees global consciousness evolving through an increasing number of individuals achieving inner transformation, and considers symptoms of spiritual emergence (often seen as mental illness) as part of a healing process needing to be lived through, not supressed. This totally chimed with me.

Obviously, such a project does not attract investment. Shareholders look to own a brand, a patent, a method, a franchise. Many innovations are lost, since the way ideas and things hang together is not finite, but dance in ever new combinations. Also, in areas of specialised and fast-changing knowledge practitioners can become so absorbed with new discoveries and concept that they tend to forget about lay persons who might not be able to grasp the newly coined language, or won’t take the time to look at other fields of knowledge. A major insight may be broadcasted ahead of its time and spark endless quotes but no understanding. Some messages cry for a new context, where insight, beauty and meaning can be shared through passion, combined with apt metaphors, like a fine tune can travel through the heart and make it shiver with the recognition of new connections. Often it’s a matter of waiting for an idea to fall on fertile ground.

Assuming my readers represent a fertile island in this vast internet ocean, I would be amiss not to share what inspires and influences my writing. Few people are familiar with transpersonal psychology; let alone with the work of Stanislav and Christian Grof, so here a short (promise) introduction.

Born to parents that care for us, or not, into environments that encourage or hinder our development, usually both, we learn (hopefully) to understand that our attitude towards ourselves and the world is coloured by early experiences, and fixed further by our reactions to what happens to us. The psychological maze we lay down is difficult to walk away from, because it pops up from inside wherever we go. An interest in our personal history and the willingness to explore our behaviour certainly help to make life easier.

However, there are memories we can’t access intellectually.

They are perinatal impressions, which don’t necessarily end in a triumph that promise self-confidence and later success in life. Western psychology does not take somatic imprints happening in the womb, during birth, and after birth, serious. The assumption is that the cerebral cortex of an infant lacks the myelin sheaths on neurons, so the brain can’t be sufficiently developed to record experiences, this, irrespective of the fact that memories reside in our cells and muscles.

The powerful non-ordinary states people experience during Grof’s perinatal holotropic sessions often relate to a time before, during and after birth. Participants report strong sensations and images of a mythological and archetypal nature that live in the collective psyche and significantly shape our individual myths.

From the people bringing alive perinatal imprints during Grof’s workshops, he has mapped the Birth Matrixes, which shed a bright light on symptoms medicine tends to label as psychotic and usually supresses with counterproductive drugs, whereas Grof looked at symptoms as a healing attempt of the psyche.

This fear of the imagination questioning accepted realities also explains the ambivalent attitude of our culture towards the arts, though it’s no secret that the archetypal myths populating our psyche inspire our most renowned artists.

Dore - public-domain-image

Dore – public-domain-image

To guide a person through a phase of psychotic or transpersonal emergency without suppressing drugs requires a paradigm shift that has, as yet, not happened, which is why Grof’s considerable data of experiential work has been tucked away in the transpersonal section of psychotherapy, seemingly too esoteric to grapple with. Early imprints, though decidedly physical, create powerful condensed experiences that draw upon themselves alike situations. Much like self-affirming prophecies, they constellate throughout every phase of life, from infancy to adulthood. Such early imprints are the source of the psychology and psychopathology of ecstasy. Please note – the types of ecstasies I show below, are only clipped markers and in no way convey the richness of the material Grof presents, which he divides into Basic Perinatal Matrixes (BTM 1, 2, 3 and 4) that include related psychosomatic problems and periods of depression people struggle with.

  • Oceanic or Appollonian ecstasy, cosmic consciousness, symbiotic union with mother during intrauterine existence, and during nursing. Expressions of this state in the arts radiate purity and serenity.
  • Volcanic or Dionysion ecstasy, orgastic sexual energies, orgies, pain and rapture. Dangerous activities, sensual and instinctual aspects of life. Think o the surrealist freeing their imagination in ways that powefully speak to us all.
  • Illuminative, Promethean ecstasy, proceeded by agonising struggles and intense yearning for answers, followed by divine lightning that brings entirely unexpected solutions, cosmic inspiration and insight.

When feelings emerge during the remembrance of the birth process, be they nightmarish,like EdgarAlanPoe’s A Descent into the Maelstrom: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Descent_into_the_Maelstr%C3%B6m  or blissful, like in Gustave Doré’s Celestial Rose, image above, the opportunity such symbolic images provide for deep psychological work is invaluable. 

Given the complexities around birth, why are not all babies delivered by pre-planned C-section?  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesarean_section   A fascinating page, if you have the time to read it. Knowing people whose delivery was pre-planned as C-section, I observe a surprising feature. If in trouble, they shout for help, and usually help comes …  expectation does its magic. When being whisked from the womb before the struggle through the birth canal commences, struggle is simply not familiar, nor, of course, the potential sense of liberation. By contrast, many people have difficulties asking for help, fearing the distress of not getting help. I include myself in this category. A recent comment I left on Jane Alexander’s blog touches upon a personal experience, an early imprint that had a decisive impact on my life. As an example, I elaborate …

… I patiently endure scarcity for long stretches, until the energy switches and everything happens at once. Then I tend to surrender to the flow, or I would feel overwhelmed.

When I was pregnant, I discovered a connection to these periods of extreme scarcity and abundance in my life, leading back to an incident after my birth. Knowing I was breastfed for many months, I asked my mother on the phone to tell me about my birth. She related my birth was long and exhausting. The midwife suggested my mother needed a break. She took me to another room where I cried myself to sleep. ‘It’s good for her voice,’ she insisted. But, of course, I must have missed my mother’s heartbeat.

While listening to this story on the phone, I observed the skin around a silver ring I was wearing turning black. Heat flashed through me, of rage, for which I had no words. By way of apology my mother said it hadn’t felt right and she should have resisted the midwife. Then she went on to describe how, next morning, I was taken to her very full breasts, at first acting stupid but eventually drinking until I could drink no more. 

In later studies I learned about Stanislav Grof’s birth matrix maps, how condensed experiences draw onto themselves alike experiences, like self-affirming prophecies. Certain expectations are set up very early indeed. This made sense and helped to soften the pattern of my extreme life phases somehow. 

So there – now you know my autogenic secret. In the end, our vastly different conditioning makes us into interesting people 🙂 not mass produced and pre-packed, as it were

Bringing to awareness the unconscious somatic patterns underlying our existence offers us choices to respond rather than react to situation. As a collective, we swim together in a psychic ocean that is both threatening and benign. We regress and progress together, each of us bringing our little light towards the expansion of consciousness. Let’s not buy into the shallowness of our material age, but keep the conversation going.

Here Stanislav Grof speaks for himself – Psychology of the Future –                                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI5oG-WNqvM

If you who would like to explore the maps Stan created, and the images that illustrate the in-depth experiences of people who encountered powerful feelings during a typical re-birthing experience – which enlighten the source of our idiosyncrasies and some of the most prevailing human pathologies, I would recommend Grof’s book ‘Beyond the Brain,’ Birth, Death and Transcendence in Psychotherapy, published 1985 by State University of New York. The book does not offer a simplified and popularised version of Grof’s work but significantly challenges our global policies, and the seriously outdated neurophysiological model of the brain, showing the reach of consciousness beyond time and space.

… ultimately we cannot do anything to other people and nature without simultaneously doing it to ourselves …

A post from 2012 that maybe relevant:                               https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/pattern-which-connects/

Incidently, yesterday I attended a talk called ‘the One who cannot die’ given by my dear friend Malcom Stewart, whom I wrote about in 2013 https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/patterns-of-eternity-humbly-opens-your-mind /



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22 responses to “… a cartography of the psyche …

  1. Wow! You take my breath away, Ashen, I have so much to learn from you sweetie. I knew of Stanislav but not Grof. I may well be picking your brain later in the year. Thank you for this, it’s great to see your inspirations. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sophie, something to chew on, slowly.
      Just read your FB post – you seem to have a string of happenings in your garden, and then your chimney, huh. Stuff dislodging from the ground and up in the sky. Tansformative, for sure … keep breathing ☼


  2. Fantastically important post Ashen, and bravely self-revealing. Bravo. I think you deserve a small MBE for this alone. Few wrench from their own inspirations the impact upon their lives, the reading and understanding that followed, and offer the insight so generously. I have read often about Grof, but not enough written by him. Have not yet followed the links but certainly will do so. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂 We all have our myths.
      Check out the video – Psychology of the Future.’ In Grof’s approach you’ll find plenty of validation for your own work. The book ‘Beyond the Brain,’ gives ground-breaking insights into the collective psyche, and our global problems. Though it’s not a book to be read in one go.


  3. Interesting, Ashen. I’m not sure I want to re-experience or even know about my birth – at 9lbs 10ozs, I apparently was happy to stay where I was. Meanwhile, the neuroscientists are continuing their search, leading, according to this also interesting article in this week’s TNY: “Deisseroth told me that he is no closer to understanding the greater mystery of the mind: how a poem or a piece of music can elicit emotions from a mass of neurons and circuits suspended in fats and water.” The article is titled “Lighting the Brain.” It’s about optogenetics. It may also be about playing with fire.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have just attended a seminar and reading by the esoteric astrologer, William Meader. His is not the ‘personality imprint’ approach but a much more encompassing one which extends the ‘Soul’s Code’ approach (James Hillman) into the planetary integration of all the ‘cells’ ( individual humans) within the single organism (humanity). It is an understanding that validates the contribution of each to the all. The ‘mystery of the mind’ (that Joe alludes to-above) would perhaps be ‘beyond the mind’ (Grof) just as the integration of body cells in the body have a source outside each cell-if they didn’t stem cells could not ‘re-configure’ to become specialist liver or blood cells. It is all coming together!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Don’t know William Meader. What’s on his website seems a re-dressing of esoteric concepts. He looks like a nice man. I never met Hillman but was inspired by his books. And I liked his approach to the active imagination.
        You would have enjoyed Malcom’s talk, Philippa. He shared memories of dreams and vision from 4 years ago, while he was in coma for several weeks. Coming back, he had to learn standing, walking and speaking again.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I know I would have enjoyed Malcolm’s talk! After listening to his sensitive reading and the flip through his book I went on line with the idea of buying it but couldn’t afford £200+ It looks a magnificent volume and would fascinate my John! Ah well! William Meader is running a workshop this weekend and I would have liked to attend. His great emphasis is on creativity from the highest soul level and how to guard against the mud of personality from diminishing its clarity. How to recognise when that is happening etc. Perhaps when he next visits? I liked and trusted him, no ‘guruness’ and a wonderful clarity. I have bought his book and must get back to study. It is a redressing of esotericism and seems to integrate many familiar ‘origins’ in plain speaking.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Philippa, where did you see Malcom’s book for£200 + Totally ridiculous. It’s actually out of print with Floris. Malcolm told me if anyone is really interested he can send them a PDF of the book. Write me an email and I’ll forward a request.
            Meader, my apologies, I can be so annoyingly blase. What anyone conveys will bring benefit where it’s truly received.


    • Fascinating, thanks Joe.
      Symptom-focussed treatment of organic brain disorders … I can’t help comparing it to an editor changing the plot point in a novel – turning it into a story the writer had not intended. A slight improvement though to cutting the brain into thin slices in search for the ghost in the machine. I noticed the term ‘consciousness’ was not mentioned in the article, not once.

      I guess all becomes clear with having a transparent brain, though a fully clarified brain would be nearly invisible to the naked eye.

      One quote uses a poignant analogy …
      Koch says, “Over the past four hundred years, since the discovery of the telescope, each successive generation of astrophysicists has realized that the universe is still bigger than the previous generation thought. So it is with the brain. Each generation of neuroscientists turns up more complexity, more hidden layers.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting catch on the omission of consciousness. I did note the connection to the physicists’ learning more and seeing less. But it was at least nice to see a humanist working on bringing some light into the brain as opposed to say a simple scientist who will only acknowledge what he can see or measure. I had an interesting conversation with a house electrician awhile back. He told me he couldn’t believe in anything he could not see or measure in some way. I thought, what a strange comment coming from an electrician!

        Liked by 1 person

        • 🙂 Yes, consciousness, ironically, is called the hard proplem.
          Re: Electricians, I know an electrician, and plummer, who is brilliantly intuitive, a lovely person. But if you aks him to draw a map of how a house is wired and plummed, he can’t do it.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Joe, my response seems to have attached itself to Philippa’s comment.


  4. Thanks very much for this post Ashen. I’ve saved the links though had a quick squizz at the Grof video (I’m familiar with his work and holotropic breath work inter alia) and was interested to see the Buddha picture alongside. You highlight the importance of memories stored in the cells and muscles and the ongoing imprint of this in our lives. In spite of struggles we can change ourselves, difficult the work may be – it begins with us – and thus our individual consciousness can effect the collective.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very intriguing, Ashen. As a person who was adopted soon after birth, I often contemplate the effects of those early weeks against the nurturing I would soon receive in the arms of my intended family. I suppose I am of two minds in these matters, as seems only right. It’s a mysterious and wonderful thing to contemplate. Of the four children in my family (two adopted, two biological), I am most similar to my mother in temperament and personality. She is the voracious reader I emulated. And yet, we share no DNA. When I met my biological mother at age 20, I found that we shared certain physical resemblances but also gestures and habits. This isn’t exactly the topic you’re about here but I do think about what has influenced me biologically vs. the memories/experiences of childhood. All of it pooling within…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Mary. You have an interesting family.
      DNA doesn’t seem to be fixed. In the field of epigenetics they evidenced that the environment we are grow up in changes our genetic dispositions. I wrote about epigenetics but can’t find the link now – my lazy tagging.
      We often find leads on puzzling questions through images that appear in the still reflection on the pool of memory.
      What emerges from the deeper unconscious, through synchronicities, dreams, or during non-ordinary states of consciousness, can be totally unpredictable and surprising, and is rarely talked about. To communicate realities our materialistic culture denies tends to receive ridicule.
      It’s why I admire people, especially scientists, who risk their reputation, when they state their findings, and coin words and metaphors to widen our horizon.


  6. Pingback: … embracing the messy soul … | Course of Mirrors

  7. Pingback: … this image of a newborn is a poem … | Course of Mirrors

  8. My first response to your image was pleasure at the obvious pleasure on the mother/caregiver’s face, but beneath that I felt some underlying anxiety and pity for the newborn. Sort of like I feel when I see pictures of abused animals and starving children. Because they’re so vulnerable and completely at the mercy of everyone in their environment, and they have no idea of the suffering in store for them. My birth was induced to fit my mother’s schedule at the hospital where she worked as a nurse. I don’t know who cared for me but she came home to nurse me on a strict 4-hour schedule. I never got the attention I wanted from my kind, well-meaning parents, and by the age of 8 I was accustomed to being alone and independent every afternoon and early evening. By 11 I had learned to be emotionally stoic. I used to think those were good qualities, but now I’m not so sure. Sometimes it saddens me that I don’t need people more. At a Jungian conference in the 90’s I did a rebirthing/holotropic breathing session led by someone who was trained by Stanislaw Graf. My experience was of the Oceanic, Appolonian type. It felt like I was almost levitating. I loved your story and the fascinating links.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jean. I remember feelings of awe holding my child after birth, its total dependency made me overly concerned of the impact my voice or gestures, for example, might have on this vulnerable being. The daily rituals of caring soon lightened this concern. And a recognition that children bring along their own story.
      Also the anger after I learned about the event after my birth, lessened, over the years. The awareness helped me to better understand myself.
      Though making peace with a pattern that rules our personality can take a lifetime.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve followed three or four of your links this afternoon and meant to post the above comment in your “image is a poem” post!

    Liked by 1 person

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