Sounds True: What would you say were some of your most important observations in your work with LSD therapy?
Stanislav Grof: The first most important discovery for me was the dimensions of the psyche. I was brought up in the Freudian tradition, in which the framework in which you operate is all post-natal biography, and the individual unconscious as it was discovered by Freud. And in these LSD experiments, people were going far beyond this very narrow limit. Which means they started experiencing birth, and encountering death, and moving into what we call transpersonal realms—realms of experience which include past-life memories, mythological encounters, experiences of oneness with nature, oneness with the cosmos, and so on. So the idea that the human psyche has this tremendous range was the most amazing discovery.
Sounds True: You discuss the relationship between the discoveries of people in non-ordinary states of consciousness and the perennial philosophy of ancient spiritual traditions. What is your interest in exploring this relationship?
Stanislav Grof: I became very interested in this many years ago—seeing that these non-ordinary states automatically take people to questions about the very nature of existence. Even when we conducted sessions for the purpose of therapy, the experiences would not stay in personal biography or in some issues that are immediately relevant for people, but sooner or later would open into the issues of the philosophical or spiritual quest.
At one point, I had about 5,000 records from psychedelic sessions, and I looked specifically into those parts of the sessions where people were looking at problems of this kind, asking questions like “Is there a God?” “How does creation happen?” “What is Matter?” “What is Time?” “What is Space?” And I wrote a paper about it called “LSD and the Cosmic Game.”
And then later I returned to it when I met Swami Muktananda, who invited me to a seminar on Kashmir Sivaism, a system of Indian philosophy. I discovered during that seminar that this ancient philosophical system was extremely similar to the system that has emerged spontaneously from the non-ordinary states of consciousness of modern Westerners. To find such a convergence was a very interesting thing for me—to find that people are discovering the same perennial truths when they enter these non-ordinary states as the ancient mystics had discovered.
The other important connection I have found in the last 15 years or so is the fact that the worldview that emerged from non-ordinary states of consciousness seems to now be increasingly validated by the different developments in Western science that have been referred to as “the emerging paradigm.” The discoveries from non-ordinary states of consciousness don’'t make any sense in terms of Cartesian-Newtonian science, but there is just tremendous overlapping with some of the developments in quantum relativistic physics.
What is most interesting to me is the fact that millennia ago, people were able to discover some very deep truths about the universe just by going deep within, and during the last 300 years of the scientific revolution, we have thrown away much of that knowledge, and ridiculed and rejected it. And it’s interesting and ironical that the most advanced developments in science are returning to this ancient knowledge that comes from the mystical traditions.