How Passion Promotes Serenity and the Detached Observer in Catharsis — The Eye of the Storm: A Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part Four — The Primal Serene
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Catharsis Makes Us Aware, by Contrast, of a Strong, Unaffected Self Within … Catharsis and Calmness: We Gain Insight Into the Illusion of Maya and Rootedness in a Deeper Self
Real Meditative Experience May Not Be So Relaxing
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!
The Primal Serene
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.
I was surprised to discover, after originally proposing this relation between catharsis and meditation in 1979 and approaching from the stance of psychotherapy, that Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh had already made the same kind of formulation coming at it from the spiritual perspective. It is described in his book, Meditation: The Art of Ecstasy (1976). See especially the chapter on “Chaotic Meditation.”
At any rate, Primal or a similar deep experiential psychotherapy 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.
The Detached Observer in Catharsis—The Eye of the Storm
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.
Continue with Approaching the “Source”: Right-Left Brain Integration, Theta Waves … Hypnogogic Experiences, and Delta Waves … A Nightly Return to Our Roots in the Infinite
Return to “At Times I Hopped Like a Frog … Between Smiles and Tears, I Continued my Inward Journey.” — Guru Muktananda: A Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part Three — Cathartic Meditation
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Stopping the “Internal Dialogue”: Meditation and Primal Are Attempts to Experience Aspects of Consciousness That Are Nonverbal, Noncortical, and Non-Neurotic
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Is God a Defense? Is Passion not Spiritual? A Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part Two — To Travel Unafraid Through All the Rooms of One’s House
Is God a Defense?
This chapter is part of the development in primal in correcting one inaccuracy of the early “primal scream,” which is Janov’s attitude regarding the relation between feeling one’s feelings and the spiritual process. Janov would claim that religion and the belief in a God are defenses, and that spiritual experiences employ the energy of repressed material, as in sublimation, or are reaction formations to such pain. Specifically, Janov has stated that meditation is “anti-Primal.”
Is Catharsis Anti-Spiritual?
Attacking from the other side we have Wilber (1982) claiming that preverbal experiences are to be distinguished from transpersonal experiences. He claims that “[b]ecause both pre-X and trans-X are, in their own ways, non-X, they may appear similar, even identical, to the untutured eye,” whereas in reality they are profoundly different (p. 5). He posits a structure of linear development in which one conceivably could “regress” to pre-X, to prepersonal experience, and mistake it for transpersonal experience.
Therefore he would claim that such experiences as we undergo in the phenomenon of re-experience are actual “regressions” on the spiritual path and are antithetical to a true spiritual quest. He would also claim a spiritual meditative practice is antithetical to one of re-experience or “regression therapy.”
Meditation Is Often Emotionally “Messy”
Wilber’s theory strikes me as a curiously dualistic way of interpreting a nondichotomous reality. And although his reasoning is tight and internally consistent, 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.”
Spiritual Growth Is Not a Linear Path, It is an Expanding Outward
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.
To Travel Unafraid Through All the Rooms of One’s House
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.
An Alternative Explanation
Thus, unlike Janov who casts a dark light on spiritual pursuits in affirming the importance of primal experience (re-experience), Wilber impugns the validity of “pre-” experiences (re-experience) in affirming the importance of spiritual and meditative experiences.
Regression Is the Left Hand of Progression
My purpose here will be to counter both theorists in affirming that “pre-” is not distinct from “trans-,” as Wilber stated, nor primal distinct from meditation, as Janov stated.
Basically, the evolved primal therapy I participated in differs with Janov in discovering that primal and meditation are congruent techniques beneath their surface differences. This is evident in the similarity of the phenomena experienced in each and in the similarity of effects each has on the personality.
Their congruence is further indicated by the fact that transpersonal phenomena do seem to occur to advanced primalers, contrary to Janov’s claims. Though experiences of both primalers and LSD subjects seem to indicate that much of what is generally considered transpersonal phenomena is derivative of traumatic life experiences, particularly those occurring at birth or in the womb, there is much of transpersonal experience that cannot be explained away in that manner.
Stopping the “Internal Dialogue”
The alternative explanation I am presenting rests on the idea that the purpose of the spiritual disciplines is, as Castaneda has termed it, to stop the “internal dialogue.” This corresponds in primal therapy to the attempts to get “below” the rationalizations, intellectualizations, and defenses that are laid down in the cortex, to the real body feelings underneath. It would seem that both methods are engaged in an attempt to delve into and experience aspects of consciousness that are nonverbal, nonsymbolic, noncortical, and nonneurotic.
Neurosis has often been defined as a narrowing of consciousness. One way of viewing this is that it entails being cut off from large areas of awareness and experience that are tied up with painful memories and feelings. In this light it is interesting to consider a statement by Paramahansa Yogananda, who was discussing his experience of returning to a physical body in his reincarnation on earth. He writes, “Like a prodigal child, I had run away from my macrocosmic home and imprisoned myself in a narrow microcosm” (1946, p. 168).
“Imprisoned in a Narrow Microcosm” = Human
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.
Catharsis and Calmness Alternate on Liberation’s Highway
But, conversely, I propose that primal and spiritual techniques are complementary, despite their surface differences, with either being helpful depending on the material to be worked through. Further and more specifically, I propose that primal can aid the spiritual process by clearing out negative material from the personal unconscious that would otherwise distort and impede that process, whereas spiritual techniques sometimes can be helpful in extending the arena of growth beyond the borders of strictly primal (or personal) reality.
Continue with “At Times I Hopped Like a Frog … Between Smiles and Tears, I Continued my Inward Journey.” — Guru Muktananda: A Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part Three — Cathartic Meditation
Return to How Valid Are Spiritual Experiences? Psychedelic Research and Deep Experiential Psychotherapy Have Intensified the Exploration of Spiritual Aspects of the Unconscious
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