More adventures in Stanislav Grof, continued from last week’s post…
[CN: suicide, like LOTS of stuff about suicide, please be careful]
Perhaps the defining principle of Grof’s work is his emphasis on the formative nature of birth trauma, how the aspects and narrative of our physical births end up playing out in our patterns (or COEXes, his term) throughout our lives until we go back and resolve them by accessing them in an altered state of consciousness.
Grof maps out the birth narrative in four distinct stages, which he calls Basic Perinatal Matrices:
BPM I: the oceanic bliss of the womb; associated with heaven, utopia, warm water, ultimate comfort
BPM II: the constriction of the womb as the birthing process begins; associated with hell, claustrophobia, despair, hopelessness, “no exit”
BPM III: the birth canal, potential birth injury (use of forceps, dislocation, suffocation, strangulation by umbilical cord, etc); associated with death, dismemberment, sadomasochism, ego death
BPM IV: birth itself, bright lights, breath; associated with rebirth, spiritual epiphany, phoenix rising, transformation, victory, heaven again
Grof says pretty much all patterns can be traced back to one or more of these stages, and often beyond them into past life experiences and archetypal narratives. I found myself essentially agreeing with him, resonating with the archetypal birth narrative he describes and seeing echoes of it in transformational processes I’ve been through, but feeling like perhaps he put an unnecessary emphasis on birth trauma, that more likely our birth trauma is simply one of many in a string of patterned traumas (what he calls a COEX), and it doesn’t carry any more weight nor require more attention than patterns that are rooted in regular early life trauma. I thought it was probably more likely that his own confirmation bias caused him to see more birth trauma patterns in his patients, because it was his system that he’d come up with, so of course his brain would be attuned to notice more evidence of it. (Sure, the earlier the pattern, the stronger the root, but that doesn’t necessarily make birth trauma the guiding archetypal force.)
Then I came across a section where he described the BPM associations with two different types of suicide or suicidal ideation.
The first kind, termed nonviolent suicide, is the desire to simply and peacefully stop existing. Folks in this category fantasize about escaping the harshness of reality, crawling under a warm blanket, walking out into the forest to die, or walking into the sea. Grof says this comes from the hell of the BPM II stage and a desire to return to the oceanic bliss of BPM I, to escape responsibility, to return to the comfort of the womb. Reality may be experienced as hell, a feeling of contraction, oppression, with no escape, and the desire for death is the desire to return to heaven.
The second kind is termed violent suicide, and it refers to the desire to violently obliterate oneself, associated with deaths such as throwing oneself in front of a train or off a building, or suicide by gunshot. People who experience this, Grof says, have primary memories of BPM III, the birth canal, and since they know they can no longer return to the womb, they remember being able to exit this stage by pushing forward into the next world, and so death in this life is seen as birth into the next, and that’s how they attempt to return to heaven.
I related very much to the first kind.
I’m not sure if folks who know me today know that I was suicidal in my 20s, but I was, and it followed the pattern of nonviolent suicide associated with BPM II. I had a plan, and it was to take enough drugs to knock myself out, and to slit my wrists in the bathtub, leaving a pale and bloodless corpse with minimal mess behind. I also used to fantasize during my teens about walking into the sea – even if I know that drowning is a horrible way to die, something about walking out into the sea to never return again just felt mythopoetic, especially during family trips to the shore with an abusive parent.
I also have always had a hard time getting out of bed. I set my alarms at least an hour ahead of when I have to put my feet on the floor. My ex used to say I looked remarkably happy when I was sleeping, that I was the only person he knew who seemed to actively enjoy it.
When you think about it, my orientation in BDSM as a submissive – which I once used in order to enable my addiction to toxic relationships where I handed over my agency to unqualified men in exchange for a protection that never came – was very much a desire to avoid taking responsibility for my life, a desire to avoid having to exist in the complexity of my neurodivergent brain manifesting outwardly in a human furniture fetish, a compulsion for dressing up in lingerie and literally objectifying myself, a compulsive need to find a person to obey. A desire to get back into heaven through the altered consciousness of subspace, the purity of surrender, dissociation made art form.
And what I experienced instead was hell, contraction, constriction, harmful relationships I didn’t want to leave. In 2012, I made a deal with myself: five more years of staying alive, and if I couldn’t figure out the will to live in that time, then I’d give myself permission to die.
When I sat in my first ceremony in 2015 and my shaman dosed me far too high for my neurotype, I indeed went to hell, and I experienced myself as a pale and hairless fetus, completely powerless against the four scaly red demons holding me down in a pool of boiling blood lava. It was a searing axis of pain, infinitely intense and infinitely eternal, like nothing I had ever experienced before, and I was helpless, wretched. (And then from somewhere far away I heard the shaman announce, “Alright everyone, we are at hour one of our ceremony, isn’t it amazing how far we’ve come? Only six more to go!”) In that hell I also relived my abuse by my father, who would lock me in a room with him by sitting in front of the door and screaming abuse at me for hours at a time (the longest I counted was five). It was No Exit, it was hell. I also experienced hell as being broken up with by my former partner, in the sadistic pity he felt for me. It was pure, scalding, existential pain, without the filter of consciousness to mitigate it.
I got myself out of hell in that ceremony, but due to the poor facilitation it would take me a long time to fully integrate the experience. In fact, the only thing that actually lit a fire under my ass and got me to fully surrender to an awakening was the twin flame path (a spiritual awakening triggered by relationship mirroring), which revealed itself unmistakably to me in 2016 and then wouldn’t leave me alone. It was following the carrot of true love, the heaven promised on the other side of BPM III, that gave me the light ahead to follow.
Once I surrendered though, I really surrendered.
Some of you remember that. Between 2016-2018 I went on a deep journey involving ten more ceremonies, facilitation from alchemist Katherine Gerardi, a budding chaos magick practice, a lot of reading, a lot of readings, and not least of all having all my wounds and gifts triggered and mirrored by a twin flame. I shared transparently in my Facebook posts about what I was learning, because I learned that it kept me accountable to myself and made the transformations root in faster. Amazingly, some facilitators even stepped up and offered me a session for free, because they saw what I was doing and wanted to help.
And in 2018 I came out the other side of it, and by request I put it into an 8-week course called The Re-Patterning Project.
As I like to say often when teaching it, you can choose the pace of your healing to be as slow or fast as you want, at least up to the speed of your alignment, but if you ask me personally, my feelings are that, as Winston Churchill once said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Once I saw the light, there was no turning back.
To firmly create my journey into heaven, or BPM IV, I committed to hypersigilizing my twin flame path. That is, I am using narrative magick to write my way through the twin flame initiation in an 11-track album that I’m now finished writing, and getting close to finished producing, which all told will have cost me more than my car, which I built my entire coaching business to be able to afford. To say I surrendered to the ego death is an understatement.
The way that you navigate the twin flame path is to notice anywhere you feel attached to something you want from your twin and to give it to yourself instead, and that’s what creates wholeness in you, from which you can attract a person of the same wholeness, and that’s sacred union, that’s the balance of the 11:11. It actually took me over halfway through making the album to realize that what I was essentially doing in making it was giving myself the music career I’d idolized in my twin – by surrendering fully to the album creation, discerning how to get it produced on my own, and putting myself through the process of writing and recording it, sourcing different producers for the different sounds and genres I needed, I ended up actually taking myself seriously as an artist, and landing in a place now where I’m collaborating with a lot of other artists and making a lot of music, and I’m optimistic about being able to continue growing in it and doing more… which was exactly what I had been most attracted to in my twin.
Track 10 on the album is its token cover song: Heaven Is A Place On Earth. I’m going into studio in Friday to take a listen to the first pass on it from my producer Pete Mills.
Anyway, I thought about these things in light of my birth: the nonviolent suicidal ideation of the bathtub, the desire to return to the oceanic bliss of subspace through BDSM, my habit of sleeping in, my suicide pact, the trip to hell in my first ceremony, the hell of being locked in a room with my father screaming at me for hours on end, the hell of rejection or abuse by my partners, and then my extraordinarily rapid awakening, once it started, that twin flame fire that lit under me and propelled me forward into the life I created for myself today, one where I’m finally happy, and hopeful, and really seeing the emerging light at the end of the tunnel into the person and artist and partner I’m becoming, the soon-to-blossom fruits of the hypersigil I’m just wrapping up, the Orphic journey out of the Underworld that I’m being reminded not to mess up out of a lack of trust just as I’m now coming to the threshold. The rebirth.
“You didn’t want to come out,” my mother said once after a couple glasses of wine. “You were in there forever. And then the doctor came in, and he put his freezing cold hand on my stomach, because it was January 27th and it was freezing cold outside where he’d been – and all of a sudden, whoosh! There you were. That was all it took.”
I notice two things about this parallel:
1. I didn’t need an understanding of Grof’s BPMs in order to facilitate this process in myself. I did it with all of the knowledge and research in TRPP.
2. Grof’s model nonetheless fits with my experience, and our models, while they may emphasize different facets, fit within each other.
This is extremely cool.
Regardless of how much emphasis we ought to give birth trauma in light of other traumas, I feel comfortable asserting that the physical birth process is likely a good place to look for clues in order to facilitate ease in one’s own spiritual awakening. It very much makes sense that the ego death and spiritual rebirth process in each of us would resemble the process of our physical births.
Because, as I like to say in TRPP, the way we do one thing is the way we do everything. Including, apparently, being born.
Image from The Way of the Psychonaut by Stanislav Grof, M.D., Ph.D.