Therapeutic Potential Of The Deathrebirth Process

The therapeutic changes associated with experiences on the psychodynamic level seem to be of relatively minor significance compared to those that result from perinatal sequences. The everyday clinical practice of LSD psychotherapy brings repeated evidence of the powerful healing potential of the death-rebirth process. The discovery of this potent therapeutic mechanism, as yet unrecognized and unacknowledged by Western science, represents one of the most surprising findings of my LSD research.

Experiential sequences of dying and being born can result in dramatic alleviation of a variety of emotional and psychosomatic problems. Negative peri- 11,1 natal matrices are an important repository of emotions and physical sensations of !j; extraordinary intensity; they function as a potential experiential source of many psychopathological syndromes. Such crucial symptoms as anxiety, aggression, depression, fear of death, feelings of guilt, a sense of inferiority, helplessness, and general emotional tension seem to have deep roots 011 the perinatal level. Many aspects of these phenomena and their interrelations make sense if considered in the „context of the birth trauma. Similarly, I have also frequently been able to trace a client's preoccupation with various physiological functions or biological material, strange hypochondriacal complaints, and a variety of psychosomatic symptoms to certain aspects of the death-rebirth process. This was particularly true for ordinary or migraine headaches, neurotic feelings, lack of oxygen and suffocation, cardiac distress, nausea and vomiting, various dyskinesias or muscular tensions, pains, and tremors in different parts of the body.

A rather common observation in psycholytic therapy was that patients who had moved beyond the psychodynamic level altogether in their process continued to have difficult LSD experiences and a number of clinical problems in their everyday life. It became evident that certain psychopathological symptoms were rooted in the perinatal level and would not disappear unless and until the underlying material was thoroughly worked through. Thus it was necessary to confront the "no-exit" matrix experientially in order to reach a lasting resolution — not just a temporary remission—of claustrophobia or an inhibited depression. Similarly, the deep roots of an agitated depression were found in the. death-rebirth struggle of the third perinatal matrix,

Suicidal urges often disappeared completely when patients worked through and integrated the perinatal material. Several individuals who had completed the death-rebirth process independently reported that their previous suicidal tendencies had actually been unrecognized cravings for the ego death and transcendence. Since this insight was not available to them at the time, they focused psychologically on a situation in objective reality that bore for them a close resemblance to the ego d^th, namely, physical destruction. The experience of psychological death tends ro eliminate or greatly reduce suicidal tendencies and ideation. Powerful aggressive and self-destructive impulses are consumed in the many dramatic experiential sequences of the death-rebirth process. In addition, after completing the process of the ego death individuals consider human existence in a much broader spiritual framework. Consciousness is seen as supraordinated to matter and drastic maneuvers on the material plane appear absurd and ineffective as a remedy for difficulties in individual development. No matter how difficult the life situations and circumstances may be from an objective point of view, suicide somehow no longer appears to be a solution.

In our work with alcoholics and heroin addicts we made some interesting observations that were quite similar to those concerning suicidal individuals. From a certain point of view, alcoholism and heroin addiction can be seen as suicidal behavior extended over a long period of time; the underlying dynamics of suicide and addiction have much in common. LSD patients who had experienced profound feelings of cosmic unity frequently developed a negative attitude toward the states of mind produced by intoxication with alcohol and narcotics. The insights of these patients concerning the nature of their addiction resembled those of persons with suicidal tendencies. After they had discovered and experienced feelings of cosmic unity in their sessions, they realized that the state they had really been craving for was transcendence and not drug intoxication. They recognized a certain superficial similarity and overlap between the alcohol or heroin intoxication and the unitive feelings evoked by LSD, and began to see that their desire for these drugs was based on confusing these two conditions. The elements that the transcendental state has in common with these intoxications are disappearance or diminution of various painful emotions or sensations, emotional indifference toward one's past or future, loosening of the body boundaries, and a fluid, undifferentiated state of consciousness. However, many essential characteristics of the unitive state are not reproduced in the experience of intoxication by alcohol or narcotics. Instead of inducing a state of cosmic consciousness in its totality, these drugs produce its caricature; however, the rescinblance is close enough to mislead the individual involved and seduce him or her into systematic abuse. Repeated administrations then lead to biological addiction and irreversible physical, emotional, and social damage.

After experiences of ego death and cosmic unity, abuse of alcohol or narcotics, and suicidal tendencies, are seen as tragic mistakes caused by an unrecognized and misunderstood spiritual craving for transcendence. The presence of strong feelings of this kind, improbable as it might seem in view of the behavior patterns and life style of narcotic addicts and alcoholics, can be illustrated by statistics from psychedelic therapy. In the Spring Grove research, alcoholics and heroin addicts had the highest incidence of mystical experiences of all the groups studied, including neurotics, mental health professionals, and individuals dying of cancer.

Malignant aggression, impulsive behavior, and sadomasochistic tendencies also have important roots on the perinatal level. Activation of the destructive and self-destructive potential in the individual is one of the most important aspects of the death-rebirth struggle. Scenes of unbridled aggression and mass destruction, as well as sadomasochistic orgies, are standard components of the perinatal unfolding.1 In this context, enormous amounts of destructive energy are mobilized and discharged; the result is a dramatic reduction of aggressive feelings and tendencies. The experience of rebirth is typically associated with a sense of love, compassion, and reverence for life.

Perinatal elements also play an important role in the dynamics of various anxiety states and phobias, hysterical conversion symptoms, and certain aspects of obsessive-compulsive neuroses. Many sexual disorders and deviations seem to be anchored on the perinatal level and can be logically explained from certain aspects and facets of the birth trauma. This is true for impotence, frigidity, menstrual cramps, painful vaginal spasms during intercourse (dyspareunia), indulgence in and preoccupation with biological material in a sexual context sucb as eating feces and drinking urine (coprophilia and urolagnia), clinical sadomasochism, and certain cases of fetishism and homosexuality.

Many important aspects of the schizophrenic process seem to represent perinatal elements in a more-or-less pure form. Here these deep unconscious contents are not mitigated and modified by later biographical material, as is the case in most of the disorders mentioned above. Thus the episodes of diabolic tortures, extreme physical and mental suffering that seems endless, a deep sense of the absurdity of existence, or visions of a monstrous world of cardboard characters and automatons described by many psychotic patients indicate the involvement of BPM II. Sequences involving death, dismemberment, annihilation of the world, cosmic catastrophes, distortions of the aggressive and sexual impulses, preoccupation with biological material, and experiential focus on the birth-sex-death triad are characteristic of BPM III. Messianic delusions, identification with Christ, and experiences of rebirth or of recreation of the world are associated with the transition from the third to the fourth perinatal matrix. Facilitation and completion of the death-rebirth process is associated with the disappearance of many of the above psychotic symptoms.

The perinatal area of the unconscious thus seems to represent a universal, undifferentiated matrix for a number of different psychopathological and psychosomatic symptoms and syndromes. Whether or not pathology develops and what specific form it takes depends on the quality and nature of the individual's postnatal life. This explains why experiences of death and rebirth may be associated with dramatic improvements in a wide variety of clinical conditions and problems. The therapeutic mechanisms available on this level are much more powerful than any known to traditional psychiatry and psychotherapy. The profound changes observed seem to involve a combination of two important therapeutic factors. The first one is release and discharge of enormous amounts of pent-up emotions and physical sensations associated with BI'M II and 111, which provide encrgv for clinical symptoms. The second is the healing potential of unitive ecstatic states experienced in the context of BI'M IV and I. These experiences have such a profound influence on clinical symptoms ol various kinds, on the personality structure, hierarchy of values, and world-view that they deserve special note.

I believe that the experiential content of the perinatal matrices cannot be reduced to the memory of biological birth. However, one way of approaching this new therapeutic principle is to focus ori the biological aspects of the perinatal process. W hether or not an actual causal link can be established, experiences of oceanic ecstasy and cosmic union seem to be deeply related to the undifferentiated state of consciousness that an infant experiences in the symbiotic interaction with the maternal organism during undisturbed intrauterine existence and nursing. The association of the feelings of cosmic unity with good womb and good breast experiences offers some clues for the understanding of their far-reaching healing potential. It is a well-established fact of developmental psychology that the blissful egoless states a child experiences during the early period of its life are very important for his or her future emotional development, stability, and mental health.

The experiences of cosmic unity induced in an adult by I.SD or by various non-drug techniques seem to be in this sense equivalent to good womb and good breast experiences. They satisfy fundamental psychological and biological needs in the individual and lacilitatc emotional and psychosomatic healing. The experience of melted ecstasy can thus be seen as a retroactive intervention in the individual's history and an anachronistic satisfaction of basic infantile needs. However, as important as the above mechanism might be, it reflects only one relatively superficial facet of the experience of cosmic unity. To overemphasize the biological side of this phenomenon would be to neglect its philosophical and spiritual dimensions. An individual who has a transcendental experience develops an entirely new image of his or her identity and cosmic status. The materialistic image of the universe in which the individual is a meaningless speck of dust in the vastness of the cosmos is instantly replaced by the mystical alternative. Within the new world-view, the very creative principle of the universe is expcrientially available to the individual and, in a certain sense, is commensurate and identical with him or her. This is a drastic change of perspective and it has far-reaching consequences for every aspect of life.

A unique series of paintings from transpersonal sessions representing insights into the nature of reality and the relationships between the ego. the Self and the universe.

Above. 'Through Suffering to the Black Sun', the manifestation of the innermost core of the human being, the divine Self. It is symbolized by the Black Sun which, unlike the sol nif>cr of alchemy, is associated with transcendental bliss. The red stripes represent the suffering which must be endured in order to realize one's real nature.

The Black Sun is here depicted as the ultimate source of creative energy in the cosmos. In combination with the preceding painting this gives rise to the idea of the 'Beyond Within', the essential identity between the individual

Self and the universal Self. The insight shows a similarity to the Hindu concept of the relationship connecting Jiva with Atma-Braluna and is especially striking as the subject was not familiar with Indian philosophy.

The process of creation and its relationship to the individual as well as the universal Self. The stream of creative cosmic 'energv-consciousness' emanates from its source, the Black Sun, and gen erates the infinite richness of form. In this case the created elements are related to the vegetable kingdom: blossoming trees, flourishing meadows and aquatic plant forms.

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