Changes In The Content Of Psychedelic Sessions
In an earlier section of this book, we discussed abstract, psychodynamic, perinatal and transpersonal phenomena as being the four major categories of experiences occurring in LSD sessions. The arrangements of the generative matrices of these experiential modalities and their interconnections are intricate and complex. They cannot be reduced to any linear model, and are best understood in holonomic terms.' It is, therefore, not quite accurate to talk about the unconscious as stratified, and to refer to some of its manifestations as more superficial than others. Yet in everyday clinical work with LSD some of these phenomena seem to be generally more available than others, and in serial psychedelic sessions they tend to emerge in a certain characteristic sequence.
In the first few LSD sessions, especially if the dosage is kept within the range of 100-150 micrograms, there is usually a preponderance of abstract experiences of various kinds. With the eyes closed, most LSD subjects have incredibly colorful and dynamic visions of geometric designs, architectural forms, kaleidoscopic displays, magic fountains, or fantastic fireworks. Sometimes, this can take the more complex form of interiors of gigantic temples, naves of Gothic cathedrals, cupolas of monumental mosques, or decorations in Moorish palaces ("arabesques"). When the eyes are open, the environment appears to be in flux or in rhythmic undulating movement. Colors are unusually bright and explosive, color contrasts much stronger than usual, and the world can be perceived in a way characterized by various movements in modern art, such as impressionism, cubism, surrealism, or superrealism. Sometimes inanimate objects are described as coming to life; at other times the entire world can appear geometrized and ornamentalized. Probably the most interesting perceptual phenomena in this group are optical illusions. Various ordinary elements of the environment may be seen transformed into fantastic animals, grotesque faces, or exotic sceneries. Although the changes of perception are most striking in the optical field, they can also involve hearing, touch, smell, or taste. Characteristic occurrences at this stage are synaesthesias, where external stimuli produce responses in inappropriate sensory organs; thus LSD subjects can report such extraordinary phenomena as seeing music, hearing pain, or tasting colors.
The above experiences, although fascinating from the aesthetic and artistic point of view, seem to have very little relevance from the point of view of therapy, self-exploration, and personal growth. The most important aspects of these experiences can be explained in physiological terms as resulting from chemical stimulation of the sensory organs and reflecting their anatomical structure and functional characteristics. Many of them can be produced by anoxia, hyperventilation, inhalation of carbon dioxide, or various physical means, such as mechanical pressure on the eyeball, electric stimulation of the optical system and exposure to stroboscopic light or sounds of various frequencies. LSD subjects occasionally refer . in this context to certain phenomena in everyday life that approximate some of these experiences. Thus the television screen of a set that is out of tune can produce a close replica of the visual distortion or geometrization of an image. Similarly, the illusive acoustical changes produced by LSD can be simulated by a radio receiver that is registering the noises from intermediate bands between stations.
Visions of geometrical patterns are so common in the low-dose LSD sessions of beginners that they were originally considered a regular and typical reaction to the drug. However, they tend to disappear from the sessions when the dose is increased or the administration of LSD repeated. This is an observation that is not easy to explain. There is a possibility that they actually represent a replay of the sensory phenomena induced by the lack of oxygen during delivery, and thus form the most superficial level of the memory of birth. Their affinity to the third perinatal matrix seems to point in this direction. To prevent misunderstanding it is important to emphasize that not all abstract and geometrical experiences in LSD sessions belong in this category. LSD subjects can have various visions of a geometrical nature in advanced transpersonal sessions. These two kinds of geometrical visions are quite different and can be easily distinguished from each other. The advanced geometrical images are related to specific forms of the micro-and macrocosm or represent elements of spiritual geometry. Typical visions from this category represent atomic and molecular structures, cellular and tissue elements, shells, honeycombs, flowers and blossoms, or various universal symbols and complex mandalas. The rich philosophical and spiritual content of these phenomena clearly distinguish them from the abstract and aesthetic experiences described earlier.
Sometimes, the abstract sensory changes can assume a distinct emotional quality, and even a specific content. They can become sharp, dangerous, and aggressive, with a dark red color that suggests accident, operation, murder, or incest. Their colors might be very fecal with accompanying feelings of revulsion, disgust, or shame. Some other forms and colors of abstract visions can be perceived as lascivious and obscene, or very sensuous, sexually stimulating and seductive. Similarly, warm, soft, and soothing forms and colors can be suggestive of the world of the satisfied infant. Such specific qualities in the imagery always reflect underlying emotionally-relevant biographical material. The same is true for perceptual changes in other areas, whether they occur spontaneously or as specific illusive transformations of some concrete sensory input. Experiences of this kind represent a transition from the abstract to the psychodynamic level.
In the study of psycholytic therapy in Prague most patients had, in the initial stages of their LSD treatment sessions, psychodynamic and abstract elements in various combinations and proportions. With the increasing number of sessions, the abstract phenomena progressively disappeared from the content of psychedelic experiences and the process focused on complex biographical self-exploration. Cer tain aspects of the psychodynamic sessions represented reliving of emotionally important events in the individuals' lives, from early childhood, later life or even the recent past. Most other experiences on this level could be identified, either immediately or at a later date, as various derivatives of such biographical material. The deciphering of these more complex formations often occurred spontaneously in the course of LSD therapy when they could eventually be traced back to their original sources. However, since these psychodynamic phenomena have a structure similar to dreams, they can also be subjected to further analysis by various techniques used in dream interpretation.
The understanding of the content and dynamics of LSD sessions on this level is facilitated if we think in terms of the specific memory constellations, or COEX systems, which were described earlier. These help to explain the otherwise puzzling observation that in sequential LSD sessions the specific content tends to undergo constant change, yet the overall structure of the experience, the quality of the emotions, and the accompanying psychosomatic symptoms can remain relatively stable for long periods of time. This reflects the fact that every COEX system has a general theme that characterizes it, but each of the historical layers represents a concrete and specific version of this theme linked with many biographical details. Once the entire COEX system is revealed, the sequential changes in the specific content of the sessions (and the corresponding illusive transformations of the therapist and the setting) can be retrospectively understood as reflecting its various historical levels. With some clinical experience, it is also possible to use the knowledge of COEX systems for anticipating the approximate nature of the experiences in their deeper layers before these are actually manifested in the LSD process. As we discussed earlier, the concept of COEX constellations, and of governing dynamic systems in general, is particularly useful in understanding the complications of LSD administration, such as prolonged reactions or recurrences.
In our research in Prague, the content of psychodynamic sessions tended to proceed, by and large, from reliving traumatic memories of a psychological nature to memories of serious diseases, operations, and accidents. This should be understood in statistical terms, as a trend in a large number of patients; it does not mean that this development is absolutely linear or that it is mandatory for every single individual or every treatment situation. At a certain stage of their LSD treatment, many patients moved from conflicts, problems, and memories of emotionally relevant events to reliving situations that had endangered their survival or bodily integrity. Biologically threatening events and severe psychological traumas in early infancy seem to represent a thematic link between the biographical level and the perinatal level of the unconscious. Since there is usually considerable experiential overlap between these two realms, the transition may be gradual and almost imperceptible. Thus, many LSD patients who were reliving episodes of near-drowning, diphtheria, whooping cough, childhood pneumonia, or tonsillectomy, suddenly recognized that some of the pain, fear, and suffocation that seemed to be related to these biographical events was actually part of the birth trauma. Similarly, other patients who were working through murderous rage seemingly related to early oral disturbances frequently recognized that some of the enormous aggression which they had attributed to their infantile dissatisfaction with the conditions of nursing was on a deeper level associated with the struggle to be born. In the perinatal context, the tension and locking of the jaws characterizing oral aggression appeared to be a natural situation in the final stage of birth, wlierc the head is being pressed against the resisting walls of .the birth canal. An experienced LSD therapist can thus frequently recognize emerging perinatal elements behind certain excessive emotional reactions and psychosomatic manifestations that the patient associates with various childhood memories.
When serial psychedelic sessions were continued, sooner or later every single LSD subject transcended the biographical stage and moved fully into the perinatal area. The number of sessions necessary for this development varied considerably from one individual to another. By and large, in the context of the psycholytic study conductcd in Prague, subjects without serious emotional problems spent very little time dealing with biographical material and moved relatively quickly to problems of dying and being born, philosophical questioning of the meaning of human life, and discovery of the spiritual dimensions of existence. In contrast, psychiatric patients with severe neurotic and psychosomatic problems sometimes needed twenty to thirty sessions before they fully entered the realms of the death-rebirth process. Retrospectively, many of them realized that their dwelling on the psyehodynamic level had been defensive in nature; they had been avoiding the much more frightening perinatal material. This attitude was, of course, supported and encouraged by the exclusive emphasis on biographical data implicit in the initial Freudian orientation of the therapists. The time needed for psyehodynamic work can be considerably shortened if the sitters are familiar with the perinatal and transpersonal dimensions of the psychedelic experience and are comfortable with them.
Once patients are fully involved in the death-rebirth process, the main focus in many consecutive LSD sessions is on the perinatal unfolding,with all its ramifications and nuances. In the most general terms, this process consists of a large number of experiential sequences involving the symbolism of individual perinatal matrices. We have not been able to detect any universal patterns or regularities as to the order in which these matrices are confronted. Some exceptional subjects have direct experiential access to elements of BPM I and transpersonal phenomena before they confront the elements of negative perinatal matrices. More typically, the access to BPM IV and I increases as LSD subjects deal with the difficult aspects of BPM II and III. In general, the perinatal sequential patterns are very individual; the factors determining them are complex and at the present time only insufficiently understood. The nature and circumstances of the actual biological birth process, and specific features of the individual's history that reinforced and accentuated certain facets of the birth trauma seem to be of considerable importance in this sense.
In addition to elements built into the personality structure of the subject, a variety of external factors seem to be of potential or actual significance. These include the personality of the therapist, his or her general orientation and therapeutic approach, and the elements of set and setting in the broadest sense. Various unsystematic observations seem to suggest the potential relcvance of seasonal influences and ealendrieal events, such as birthdays, important anniversaries, Christmas, or Easter. Some interesting clues can occasionally be derived from the subject's astrological chart and from the data on planetary transits,2 and the most interesting area for future research may be that of possible cosmobio-logical determinants of psychedelic sessions in general and the perinatal process in i
A complex experience combining feelings of constriction with painful genital and umbilical sensations. It illustrates the origin of the castration complex and its roots in the birth trauma.
The horrors of the birth trauma. Bird-like monsters encroach on the helpless and fragile fetus as it hangs from the top of the uterine cupola by its umbilical cord. Their gigantic claws and beaks symbolize the destructive biological forces of the delivery.
particular. While the major experiential focus in the LSD procedure is on the perinatal level, several important episodes related to the individual matrices can be experienced in a single session. However, in each of these sequences the emphasis is on a different aspect, facet, or level of the main experiential pattern. In some sequences involving the negative matrices, the central focus is on the emotional quality, such as depression, anxiety, guilt, anger, aggression, or revulsion. In others the emphasis can be on one or several psychosomatic manifestations — a feeling of suffocation, pressures on the head and body, various physical pains, discharge of tension in tremors, nausea and vomiting, or cardiac difficulties. In addition, each of the stages of the perinatal process can be experienced on different levels, from various superficial symbolic allusions to .sequences of a primordial and elemental nature that have mind- and world-shattering dimensions.
The richness of the experiential content is augmented by the fact that the process involves an endless variety of illustrative material from biology, zoology, anthropology, history, mythology, and religion. These elements also contribute to the content of positive perinatal matrices, whose emotional and physiological manifestations are much more uniform and simple than those of the negative ones. For these reasons, psychedelic sessions focusing on the death-rebirth process not only have great therapeutic potential, but are a source of invaluable scientific, sociopolitical, philosophical, and spiritual insights.
Although LSD subjects can have several sequences of death and rebirth in a single psychedelic experience, it usually takes many sessions before this process is finished and the perinatal material complete!)' disappears from their content. This is in agreement with anthropological observations in various lion-Western cultures where powerful sequences of death and rebirth are induced by drugs or various non-drug methods in the context of so-called rites of passage. There are indications that in the second half of life the episodes of unusual states of consciousness during such rituals become less dramatic and lack the perinatal elements. Kilton Stewart "s (96) description of the Senoi culture can be cited as an important confirmation of this. As the perinatal process unfolds, the intensity of negative experiences tends to increase and the feelings of release and liberation thereafter become deeper and more complete.
Certain aspccts of the perinatal process can be used as rough indicators of its progression. If the LSD subject spends large periods of several consecutive sessions in the role of the suffering victim — helpless, hopeless, and with "no-exit" feelings— it usually means that lie or she is in the initial stages of the process. Increasing access to aggressive feelings and an active role in the experiential sequences are characteristic of more advanced stages of the death-rebirth process. It was mentioned earlier that, in the context of the third perinatal matrix, physical and emotional agony are intimately interwoven with intense sexual arousal. As a result of this connection, during LSD therapy using lower dosages some of the birth agony can be discharged and worked through in the form of orgastic sequences of painful intensity. If high dosages are used in the LSD process, the increase of sexual content in the sessions is an important indicator that the perinatal process is moving into the final stage. The same is true for intimate encounters with biological material such as blood, phlegm, feces, urine, or various other foul-smelling substances. Another typical sign that the death rebirth process is coming to an end is experiential predominance of the element of fire, in the form of concrete images of volcanoes, thermonuclear reactions, explosions and conflagrations, and especially in the more abstract and transcendental form of the purifying and rejuvenating fire (pyrocatharsis).
It is of critical importance for the practice of LSD psychotherapy to know the concomitants of the experiential transition from death to rebirth intimately. Sonic of the states the subject has to face ill this context are so unbearable that he or she may not be able lo do il without sufficient acquaintance with this territory 011 the part of, and constant encouragement and support from the siller. If this is not available, desperate avoidance of the frightening aspects of the critical turning-point can become a long-term impediment or even a permanent block to the completion of the perinatal process. The expectation of a catastrophic global explosion, excessive degrees of suffocation, feeling an impending loss of consciousness ("black-out'), a sense of bodily disintegration, and the collapse of all reference points are the most frequent final obstacles that subjects have to face in the death-rebirth process.
Perinatal experiences have an interesting intermediate position between the biographically determined individual unconscious and the transpersonal realms of the collective unconscious. The relative degree of involvement of psychodynamic or transpersonal material in perinatal sessions is another indicator of progress. In early phases there is considerable biographical emphasis; while LSD subjects are dealing with traumatic childhood memories the experience occasionally deepens into a perinatal sequence. Later, the main focus shifts almost entirely to the content of perinatal matrices and the psychodynamic elements are usually reduced to an occasional reliving of diseases, operations, or accidents. At the same time, various transpersonal realms are increasingly represented in the sessions, either as illustrations and concomitants of the perinatal sequences or as independent episodes. Quite frequently, LSD subjects experiencing various aspects of the birth trauma report a simultaneous reliving of past-incarnation memories which involve similar elements. Feelings of suffocation in the birth canal can thus be associated with what feels like a memory of being drowned or hanged in another life-time. Sharp perinatal pains can take the form of being gored by a sword or a wild animal in a previous incarnation, and the no-exit feelings of BPM II can be paralleled by a scene of imprisonment in a medieval dungeon. In a similar way, experiences of the ego death can coincide with executions, murders, or ritual sacrifices.
Many other forms of transpersonal phenomena can make their first appearance in connection with perinatal sequences. Various archetypal images of deities and demons can accompany the birth experiences, as individual visions or in the context of entire mythological sequences. Versions of the Terrible or Great Mother, Satan, Moloch, Shiva the Destroyer, Osiris, Dionysus and Jesus Christ seem to have specific association with individual perinatal matrices and various aspects of the birth process. In some instances, memories from the lives of the individual's human ancestors, or experiences of various phylogenetic crises can occur in the same function as described above for karmic elements. An identification with persons of different races, professions, social groups, and predicaments, such as soldiers in wars, ambitious military leaders, revolutionaries, dictators, prisoners in concentration camps, inmates of insane asylums, adventurers, explorers, martyrs, saints, and sages is quite characteristic. Similar identification may be experienced in regard to entire groups of people, and be accompanied by various relevant insights into the dynamics of important religious, historical, and socio-
Identification with the crucified Christ in the context of BPM HI. Top. Jesus surrounded by the hatred of the hostile mob. Middle. The brutal biological aspects of crucifixion.
Above. The anger that would be an appropriate human reaction to the tortures that were inflicted upon Jesus.
Three manifestations of the same theme or? the psychodynamie, perinatal and transpcrsonal levels.
Above, 'Pegu'. an important fan tasized childhood companion of the subject.
Upper right. Soldiers in ancient costumes are crushed between two gigantic cvlinders. In this basically perinatal symbol the soldiers represent elements of an underlying transpcrsonal experience which is depicted in the last drawing.
Lower right. A military expedition of an ancient (African?) army. The image of Tega' now re-appears as a motif on the standard.
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