A Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part Three — Cathartic Meditation: “At Times I Hopped Like a Frog … Between Smiles and Tears, I Continued my Inward Journey.” — Guru Muktananda
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The Path Is Different from the Goal: The Truth About Meditation Can Only Now Be Told — Real Meditation Is About Letting Go and Experiencing Not About Controlling Oneself
What Really Happens in Authentic, Deep Meditation
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.
Only Now Can It Be Told
Why Janov might think this is understandable, however. Explicit information on meditation experiences, especially during the earliest stages, 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, for the first time in history, has been taking place in the last half century.
“Between Smiles and Tears, I Continued my Inward Journey.” — Guru Muktananda
From the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda (1946) and 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 or that it is, as Wilber claimed, distinct from “pre-” states. 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 “continued 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).
The Yogic Experiences No One Tells You About
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 consciousness.
“Meditators Commonly Experienced Intense Feeling States….”
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).
The Goal Is Different from the Path
In these descriptions of emotional discharge/release we can see similarities to what is described as occurring in primal therapy.
Spontaneous, Automatic Movement in Meditation ~ First-Line Feelings 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 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 stages of meditation and should not be confused with the experiences entailed in the process of getting there.
Most of What Passes for Meditation Is Anything But Mystical
The point is that there is more to meditation than mere relaxation or undiluted “trans-” states. Although evidently, as Rowan (1983) put it, “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). From what I have seen, most of meditation as understood today is about learning to become more repressed and neurotic … less alive. It is all about trying to push out of consciousness all the upsetting things of life–all the things which when faced, embraced, and integrated can be gone beyond and can enrich one.
Still, Rowan continues, “it is possible to get small or large peak experiences through meditation” (p. 21).
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!
Continue with The Primal Serene — A Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part Four: How Passion Promotes Serenity and the Detached Observer in Catharsis — The Eye of the Storm
Return to 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
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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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