It was such an honor for me to collaborate with Rick Tarnas on this book celebrating Stan Grof and his remarkable life’s work. Looking back on my own intellectual and psychospiritual development, I see three elements or dimensions that first drew me to Grof. First, there was his understanding of, and attitude toward, non-ordinary states of consciousness. This was intriguing to me because of the deep impact of my own psychedelic initiation at age thirteen. As with so many others in similar circumstances, this initiation blew open the doors of perception and I was granted direct experience of both heavens and hells. However, as was also common both then and now, my initiation was incomplete. I had no awareness of the importance of set (intention) and setting. I had no instruction on what I might expect, no elders to guide me, no sacred stories to orient me, and no means to integrate my experience. I stopped my experimentation when I was eighteen after two consecutive difficult journeys. Thankfully, despite my expulsion from high school for truancy, I was able to enter university at the appropriate age and enthusiastically pursued what I quickly discerned to be my calling as an academic. During my studies of English literature and comparative religion, I discovered the work of Carl Jung and eventually specialized in the psychology of religion, with an emphasis on Jungian psychology. It was only after completing my doctorate, however, and soon after I had begun teaching full-time that I discovered Grof’s work and had the opportunity to experience holotropic breathwork with him several times. The practice of holotropic breathwork, Grof’s expansive cartography of the psyche, his understanding of the therapeutic process, and his notions of spiritual emergence and emergency enabled me to revisit and begin integrating my earlier incomplete initiation and to link it to my intellectual and professional calling.
The second element that drew me to Grof’s work was his understanding of the nature and significance of the perinatal process. Along with the critical insights related to the presentation and etiology of various psychopathologies—from clinical depression and malignant aggression to sexual disorders, addictions, and risk-seeking behaviors—the perinatal dimension provided a theoretical and experiential bridge between the personal or biographical and the transpersonal dimensions of the psyche. Knowledge of the perinatal process is essential for making sense of the phenomenology of the death/rebirth archetype, the elements of which are in evidence across the imaginal realm, in myth and other narratives of transformation, and rites of passage or initiation. It has deepened my understanding of the logic of process in general (here I’m thinking of the Hegelian dialectic), and of the process of individuation or the actualization of wholeness (as conceived by Jung), in particular.
The third element was Grof’s articulation and championing of the emerging New Paradigm as a sorely needed alternative to the still dominant Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm. Where the latter is reductive, mechanistic, and disenchanted, the New Paradigm is informed by the principles of wholeness, living systems, and the pervasiveness of meaning, consciousness or spirit, and the sacred. It is participatory instead of disengaged. In the academic and scholarly context, in place of disciplinary isolation and fragmentation, it encourages radically transdisciplinary forms of inquiry where knowledge can once again aspire to genuine wisdom.
All three of these elements are in evidence in the many rich essays of Psyche Unbound, brief descriptions of which I have provided in the second half of the Introduction. In my own essay, I seek to put Grof’s work in dialogue with William James, a pioneer in transpersonal psychology, author of the classic Varieties of Religious Experience, philosopher of pragmatism, and early researcher of non-ordinary states of consciousness and paranormal phenomena. I explore several areas of congruence in their respective understandings of transpersonal experiences and argue for the fruitfulness of Grof’s theory of the perinatal process for considering the centrality of the symbol of birth in the Varieties. In so doing, I propose a theoretical distinction between the concepts of the natal (actual birth), the transnatal (the “second” or transpersonal birth), and the metanatal (the deeper archetypal structure) dimensions of the perinatal process.
Let me conclude by expressing my gratitude for the profound impact both Stan Grof and Rick Tarnas have had on my personal and professional life. I met Stan for the first time over forty years ago now, on which occasion he mentioned the work of his close friend, Richard Tarnas, intuiting that we were both working along similar lines. I saw what he meant the following year when I encountered Rick’s magisterial book, The Passion of the Western Mind. I finally got to meet Rick briefly in person at the International Transpersonal Association conference in Prague in 1992, which I wanted to attend because I knew Rick would be speaking there, as would Stan, David Bohm (whom I had met in London in 1986 and had been corresponding with), and other luminaries from the transpersonal and new paradigm fields. As fate would have it, I was eventually invited by Rick in 1997 to begin teaching with him and Stan and the other faculty of the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program that Rick had founded a few years earlier at the California Institute of Integral Studies. In my own life, Psyche Unbound seems to signal the completion of a certain karmic mission I have held in relation to these two men who, while still and always an inspiration to me, I am fortunate enough to have come to know as colleagues and friends.
Psyche Unbound (2021) is available in hardback from Synergetic Press