I had an interesting moment this weekend reading Stanislav Grof, MD, PhD’s The Way of the Psychonaut.
Grof is a psychedelic researcher with a background in the medical model of psychology who soon after his graduation began studies in LSD that showed phenomena far beyond anything that the psychology he had learned was capable of explaining. Through these sessions, and throughout a lifetime of study (he’s now in his 90s), he put forth a model of the psyche that, through observations of patents in holotropic states, provided evidence that consciousness was non-local to the human body and that it could connect to the non-material experiences of the transpersonal collective consciousness.
One of his discoveries most relevant to the healing of psychological “disorders” was the idea that the map of the psyche is comprised of what he terms COEXes – short for “systems of condensed experience.”
A COEX is essentially a chain of events sharing a similar nature or emotional charge that traces back along the individual’s timeline, back to their birth, and before their birth into their epigenetic ancestry or even to their past lives. What his experimental sessions with LSD showed was that his patients could be almost miraculously cured of their “complexes” (sets of dysfunctional behaviors) if, through a holotropic state, they could access the non-local state where the original event occurred, and rewire it at the root.
“The work with holotropic states has shown that emotionally relevant memories are not stored in the unconscious as a mosaic of isolated imprints, but in the form of complex dynamic constellations,” Grof writes. “A COEX system consists of emotionally charged memories from different periods of our life that resemble each other in the quality of emotions or physical sensations that they share. Each COEX has a basic theme that permeates all its layers and represents their common denominator. The individual layers then contain variations on this basic theme that occurred at different periods of the person’s life.”
So a COEX is essentially a pattern.
What I teach in The Re-Patterning Project is that our mind-body systems are like computers, that we are both the system and the programmer, that throughout a lifetime of experiencing, growing, and learning, we take on the programming our experiences imprint us with, but that through conscious awareness of how our systems function we can reprogram ourselves to achieve the results we want.
First a trauma or event forms an imprint or belief which gets translated into an internal algorithm, “if X, then Y” (eg, a baby who learns from an abusive experience, “if I cry for help, I will get punished”). The way our brains process information and the way our memory selects for what is familiar results in confirmation bias, which means we are more likely to see and retain those experiences which match with our existing beliefs, and the more evidence we see of our beliefs, the more deeply rooted they become, and the more we unconsciously select for and gravitate towards the same experiences. Left unchecked, we run an unsustainable, open loop system in our human experience, becoming more entrenched in the pattern every time it repeats.
This is, in other words, what Stanislav Grof, MD, PhD calls a COEX.
Grof notes in the passage here that negative COEXes tend to be the most prevalent and easily identified. He waxes philosophical about that but doesn’t teach the “why” that I teach: that due to the negativity bias we evolved to have so we could avoid environmental dangers, we need at least 5 positive experiences to counter the weight of a single negative experience in memory (as we learn from the Gottman Institute on what ratio of said experiences is the tipping point for divorce in couples).
But he also notes that positive COEXes exist too – COEXes of love, joy, bliss, happiness. I teach this too, and I also teach how to install them – through the practice of backwards engineering belief formation. We can just as easily find (or create) inciting incidents that we can then, with some practice, mindfully snowball into greater and greater generative forces in our lives. Negative COEXes can also be repatterned or replaced in similar fashions.
I don’t have the formal training that Grof had. I went to NYU but my degree was in theater. I spent my 20s in my own COEX of trauma patterns that the medical model-informed mental health industrial complex not only failed to solve but quite certainly made worse. I spent years in survival mode, acquiring more and more trauma under the gaslit version of reality that I was disordered, a belief that created more feelings of burdensomeness in me and kept me unconsciously addicted to patterns of toxic relationships. I was in a tunnel I couldn’t see out of, until I finally had a spiritual crisis and set the intention to solve my way out of my own escape room.
And ultimately, I did, over the course of about two years, with the help of several excellent books, a string of ayahuasca ceremonies, a handful of different facilitators and courses, an old NLP and Timeline Therapy certification that I finally fully understood for the first time, and a budding but wildly emergent chaos magick practice.
And then, on a casual request from a lovely reader in a Facebook comment, I put everything I learned into an 8-week course and taught others how to do it for themselves, and the results even in the very first beta round showed that it was possible for people to get miraculous, real time, life-changing results, many just from the transmission of information alone and with no additional 1-1 facilitation.
A part of me tonight is grieving the version of me who might have had academic support behind her for this work – the research grants, formal academic study, and access to controlled LSD that Grof had. For me, this work was born out of necessity for myself, because I could not possibly go on existing as I had been and I wanted to exhaust my options before permanently yeeting myself out of the land of the living. I did it on a shoestring budget, as I was supporting myself, living alone, over the course of about two years, and then once solved I put it into a format by which others could replicate the results.
And this weekend I’m reading that the conclusion I’ve arrived at independently through the amalgamation of the research and experience I’ve come across and which I teach in The Re-Patterning Project is pretty much identically described in The Way of the Psychonaut, published in 2019, written by Grof in his 90s.
Which is pretty cool.
It’s also bittersweet in other ways, because having been in the COEXes of abuse, confusion, and gaslighting typical to the experiences of a socialized female autistic person with a history of childhood abuse, I did not automatically receive a supportive environment for my abilities and spent a good decade afraid to use my own brain in these applications because I was programmed by men around me into distrusting it.
And then this week I’m also watching the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial, and while there’s lots I could say on it, and while I am in no way defending Heard in what I’m about to say, the part that really gets me the most in this moment is this:
That Shannon Curry, the psychological expert called in by Depp’s team to assess Amber Heard’s likelihood of a personality disorder, appears to be unquestionably one of the most well-spoken, intelligent, and reasoned experts they could have possibly gotten to explain the relevance of an assessment of a personality disorder and its meaning and implications under the current medical model according to the DSM-V — and, that she is absolutely wrong in how the human psyche functions.
She testifies that a “personality disorder” is based on the idea that:
“A personality is… the traits, the characteristics, the way we think, we feel, act, that make us who we are, and these traits are pretty stable over time and across situations. We might mind our p’s and q’s if we meet someone new, but if somebody were to describe us or if we were to describe ourselves, we have a pretty good sense of who we are. A personality disorder is some sort of dysfunction in those enduring traits, as opposed to other types of mental illness, when you think about something like depression, that’s episodic, it comes and it goes.”
I remember when an ex accused me of having Borderline Personality Disorder, one of the diagnoses the evaluator assigned to Heard. I went to a psychological evaluator myself back then, and I told them I’d looked up the characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder, and that not only did I think things such as “a feeling that the world is dangerous” and “a tendency to feel deeply betrayed and disappointed by people” were pretty damn reasonable given my lived experiences, but that I’d just published a book on seduction, and was I just foisting all my anxious attachment personality disorder symptoms on my unsuspecting readers? They stared at me like I had beamed into their office from a spaceship, told me they could see I was very unhappy, and that they didn’t have a clear answer for me.
Because, as I would later put together, and as my own teacher Grant Morrison has also suggested in so many words, “personality” is nothing more than a living mosaic of COEXes. And I am living proof that COEXes can be repatterned. In no way am I excusing the actions of Amber Heard, and this isn’t relevant to the gravity of her past actions against her ex-partner, but if she wanted to, she could change her personality. It would doubtless suck for her (and if she were in my program I can’t say she wouldn’t drop out at Week 3), but she could do it – and lord knows it can’t be worse than her life right now and she’s probably wishing she did it a long time ago.
Stanislav Grof might be able to help her do it too, with some holotropic facilitation. But Stanislav Grof has been doing this work for a long time, and he’s now in his 90s, and even with his MD and PhD, he didn’t succeed in changing the model enough that we’d not be hearing about “personality disorders” on the stand today.
His work came before mine, but it wasn’t available or accessible enough to me in time for me not to have to piece it together and put it into a formula myself. Even though he had the correct medical background and all the right letters after his name.
And here I am, with no formal study beyond my NLP and Timeline Therapy certifications, someone whose testimony on mental health the court system would never take seriously, and I’m wondering how I’m going to create the kind of impact I want to have in righting these broken models.
For the time being though, just know that none of us is really as stuck as the current iteration of the mental health industrial complex would like us to think we are.