Instinctual Integration Part 2 – Practical Mysticism #005b

This is the 2nd part of this:

Hypothesis 3: Balance can work at cross purposes to the ego’s immediate mission. Hence, the counter-balancing system has to be able to overpower the ego if need be.

There’s a concept invoked in Stan Grof’s breathwork system, Jungian dreamwork, and psychedelic-assisted therapy of an inner healer–that there is a mechanism that provides just what’s needed to start healing trauma or unblock a blocked life.

This could be overly rosy. If we’re looking at something that evolved, it only has to be good enough most of the time.

We might need to distinguish between a utopian version of Self that provides wise and compassionate guidance and a good-enough version of Self that evolved because an integrated individual is more energy efficient than one headed off in various directions at once or one that’s conflicted at key action points. The latter version of Self would likely happily break a few eggs to make the omelet.

An example of what I mean: one sickle cell allele gives some immunity to malaria. Both, and you die painfully. That evolved and is maintained by selection because the malaria vs. sickle cell equation preserves the allele.

It’s not often discussed, but any traditional practice that goes deep, for example, old-school meditation practices, has to acknowledge the triggering of not just peak experiences but also nadir experiences. We can achieve a state of exalted meaning, or meaning can collapse. Stan and Christine Grof, after decades of work with psychedelics and then their Holotropic breathing technique, formed the Spiritual Emergency Network to deal specifically with such emergencies. (It was later renamed the Spiritual Emergence Network in order to sound a bit less dire:-)

The Self’s intervention need not be so abrupt. Many of Jung’s case histories involve individuals whose conscious side had become so maladaptively or rigidly overbalanced that the unconscious slowly kicked them out of their workday life with increasingly severe neurotic symptoms which, when followed out, can lead to a needed greater wholeness.

The commonality, however, is that the Self is capable of throwing a spanner in the works and bringing the ego’s game plan to a screeching halt.

Tantric mandala of Vajrayogini, By Anonymous, improved by Poke2001 – Rubin Museum of Art, Public Domain,

Hypothesis 4: CNOS are a means to relax the ego’s grip and allow excluded aspects in. As such, they have an evolved place in our psyche’s structure.

Too much of the animal disfigures the civilized human being, too much culture makes a sick animal.
– Carl Jung, “The Psychology of the Unconscious”, 1916

This is where the corollary comes in: like earthquakes, it’s better to have things adjusted with multiple small tremors than one big potentially obliterating quake.

I am arguing that CNOS in our species are under selective pressure. The phrase “under selective pressure” means that a trait is sustained by some sort of evolutionary pressure…like the sickle cell allele mentioned above. Once that pressure is removed, the trait decays or disappears like the eyes of cave-dwelling fish.

CNOS and their cultivation are found in the earliest histories, in archaeological evidence, and across all known cultures. Widening out to a long view, that argues that for their being under selective pressure. (The fact that they are often fun isn’t a counterargument. What we consider fun is itself likely under selective pressure:-)

A simple view of the ego is that it’s an evolved anti-‘look squirrels’ mechanism. It puts energy under the direction of conscious intention by walling it off from both internal and external distracting impulses. It gives us conscious agency. The ability to focus in and exclude distractions has made us who we are, for better or worse.

A Jungian tenant is that everything has a dark side (and the dark side has its own archetype, the Shadow.) Our ability to focus in and wall off distractions, unfortunately, means that we can proceed lock-step as individuals or as a culture towards some objective while the situation has changed to demand something else. A little OCD provides focus. A lot is often maladaptive. The Jungians believe that our robust ego is a trait that has become too effective. Thus, we are disconnected from our broader self and, perhaps, more dire from the wider world of which we are a part.

It remains to be seen how all this is going to work out. We’re a blip on the evolutionary scene. Dinosaurs had a 165m year streak. Genus homo only 2.5m, with homo sapiens sapiens clocking in at .25m. We should be so lucky as to go the way of the dinosaurs.

A common theme of almost all CNOS is they leave the subject with an expanded feeling of connection–to themselves, to other people, and to “all of creation.” We’re undergoing a resurgence of psychedelic therapy. One core finding from the earliest Tim Leary era research and confirmed by the most recent, is that achieving an expanded state correlates highly with the efficacy of the session. The research tool used to measure that, btw, is the Mystical Experience Questionnaire.

If you’ve never seen the Ted Talk above, it provides an eloquent description of the expanded state and a way to get there that’s effective but of limited utility for most all of us:-)

Considering our advanced state of disconnection, we owe it to ourselves to cultivate this side of our potential. To do a good job of it. The modalities are legion: awe, nature, meditation, inebriation, music, and it ramps up from there. See #002 in the section near the end titled Feedback for a simple program to add a bit of awe to your day.

By Oluf Bagge - From Northern Antiquities., Public Domain,

By Oluf Bagge – From Northern Antiquities 1847., Public Domain,

I’ve written a longer exploration of this in Jungian terms on Medium. Carl Jung – Building Self: Bliss, Disquiet, Enlightenment, and False Satoris

Next #006 – the bigger the headache, the bigger the pill.

Thanks for reading

One thought on “Instinctual Integration Part 2 – Practical Mysticism #005b”

  1. Very interesting, Al. It made me take a look at the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (I did look at the revised version.) I have a deep trust (at my advanced aged) of experiences where you’re left with the “Feeling that it would be difficult to communicate your own experience to others who have not had similar experiences,” or “that they can’t be described in words.” I feel like we all have many more overlapping types of experiences than we want to admit. I sometimes feel that saying that others can’t understand or have an experience explained to them is in some ways the height of ego.

    I love however the idea of peak experiences leading to nadir experiences and vice versa.

    Thanks for this thought provoking piece.

    You’ve also made me very interested in

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