Primal Perspective on Spirituality, Part One — Primal Therapy: In Resolving Buried Tensions, One Sees Clearly, Feels Freer, and Turns Cycles of Pain Into Cycles of Joy

12/07/2013 18:05

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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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The debate about the status we should ascribe to spiritual experience has been going on for a long time in psychology. Disagreement on this was crucial to Jung’s break from Freud, with Jung postulating an unconscious containing transpersonal as well as purely personal elements.

 

More recently, LSD research and cathartic approaches to psychotherapy have extended the experiential exploration of spiritual aspects of the unconscious. Consequently, the legitimacy of spiritual experience has become an issue among some of us who primal.

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Some of us who have been through primal therapy have begun to have experiences that we find difficult to trace to biological roots. But Janov, in his writings about primal, is consistent with the Freudian tradition in which he was tutored. He maintains a mechanistic interpretation of the primal process. He sees spiritual experiences as derivative of underlying primal pain and views meditation as “anti-Primal” (1970, p. 222).

For some who have continued primaling beyond Janov’s prescribed limits, it is becoming apparent that he is unaware of some of the potentials of the process he presented. As one who began “feeling his feelings” [Footnote 1] over four decades ago, I will present an explanation of the relationship between the primal and spiritual processes as an alternative to Janov’s mechanistic one. I rely on my own experiences, those I have observed in others in my role as facilitator and therapist, and the experiences of a number of other primalers as they have been related to me. I also rely on the important work with LSD and holotropic breathwork that Stanislav Grof (1970, 1976, 1980, 1985, 1988; Grof & Halifax, 1977; many more) has presented.

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Primal Therapy

It may be important to bring us up to date on primal therapy. Arthur Janov introduced it in 1970 with his controversial book, The Primal Scream, subtitled, Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis. It had its time of ascendancy, with well-known personalities such as John Lennon espousing it. It also had a long period of malignment in print and the media, with much of the criticism apparently directed at Arthur Janov’s style in presenting it or the excessive quality of his claims concerning it. Relevant articles, which were published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, are those by Kelley (1972), Kaufmann (1974), and Lonsbury (1978). Despite the controversy, however, primal therapy seems to have struck a chord in many people with its statement that the vast majority of us carry around a reservoir of unfelt pain from past experiences that was repressed because it was too overwhelming to be dealt with at the time. Primal therapy survived many of its contemporaries in the human potential movement.

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Primal theory, simply stated, is that the memories of unfelt pain from traumatic experiences in childhood, at birth, and in the womb, and the emotions that would have naturally occurred with them, are locked in the body as unresolved tension. This tension motivates all neurotic and psychotic symptoms in its grosser manifestations, and in its subtler manifestations influences and shapes one’s perceptions of and attitudes toward one’s self and world, and thus determines one’s behavior toward them. It does so in a manner that is symbolic of the unresolved need or trauma.

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This pain/tension keeps us uncomfortable, keeps us from being able to see reality clearly and act positively, keeps us from being fully functioning, and keeps us forever viciously trapped in negative life situations that serve only to recreate the patterns of our past scars. In primal one opens up to these repressed memories and relives the traumatic events with all the emotion that should have been there, accompanying them, originally. In resolving the tensions, one sees more clearly and is able to act more positively and joyfully and to create more positive scenarios for one’s life.

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