Lesson 8 - Stanislav Grof: Birth Matrices & Death


The Bird phoenix
Related to the transition from

The Tunnel of the birth canal

Coming to life
Grof divides the birth process up in four stages or


BPM I: Unity with the mother
BPM II: Opposition to the mother
BPM III: Cooperation with the mother
BPM IV: Separation from the mother

The Perinatal Experiences and our basic attitudes

Grof has been able to prove that a huge amount of our stubborn thought patterns, phobias, and general attitudes can be tracked down to experiences in the birth process.



The biological basis of this matrix is the experience of the original symbiotic unity of the foetus with the maternal organism…
During episodes of undisturbed life in the womb, the conditions of the child can be close to ideal. However, a variety of factors of physical, chemical, biological and psychological nature can seriously interfere with this state.
The undisturbed intra-uterine state can be accompanied by other experiences that share with it a lack of boundaries and obstructions, such as consciousness of the ocean, an aquatic life form (Whale, fish, jellyfish, anemone, or kelp), or interstellar space. Also Nature at its best.
Archetypical images from the collective unconscious could be the heavens or paradises of different cultures, cosmic union or mystical union.
The disturbances of inter-uterine life are associated with images and experiences of underwater dangers, polluted streams, contaminated or inhospitable nature, and insidious demons.
Examples of disturbances can be strong conflict between the father and expectant mother, considerations of abortion, strong intoxication. The mystical dissolution of boundaries is replaced by a psychotic distortion with paranoid undertones.



This matrix has its biological basis in the very onset of biological delivery and its first clinical stage.
Here the original equilibrium of the intra-uterine existence is disturbed, first by alarming signals and then by muscular contractions. When this stage fully develops, the foetus is periodically constricted by uterine spasms; the cervix is closed and the way out is not yet available


Imagery following BPM II is the experience of cosmic engulfment, overwhelming feelings of increasing anxiety and awareness of an imminent vital threat. The source of this danger cannot be clearly identified, and the subject has a tendency to interpret the world in paranoid terms. Very characteristic for this stage is the experience of a three dimensional spiral, funnel or whirlpool, sucking the subject relentlessly towards its centre.
An equivalent of this annihilating maelstrom is the experience of being swallowed by a terrifying monster, such as a giant dragon, python, crocodile or whale. Equally frequent are experiences of attack by a monstrous octopus or spider.
Archetypical imagery is the beginning of the hero’s journey, the fall of the angels, paradise lost. Images of being stuck, in prison or concentration camp or even hell are also common.
Common feelings are agonising metaphysical loneliness, helplessness, inferiority, despair and guilt.



This matrix has its biological basis in the second stage of delivery. The uterine contractions continue and in fact increase but now the cervix is dilated, allowing the child through.


Imagery following BPM III can be titanic fights, sadomasochistic experiences, intense sexual arousal, demonic and scatological images and encounter with fire. In short the scene is a death - rebirth struggle.
Characteristic symbolic themes are raging elements of nature (volcanoes, electrical storms, earth­quakes, tidal waves and tornadoes), violent scenes of war or revolutions, and high-power technology (atomic bombs and rockets).
Related archetypical themes are images of the Last Judgement, superheroes and their deeds, and mythological battles.
Other mythological symbolism is that of sacrifice and glorification of sacrifice.



This matrix relates to the actual birth of the child. This perinatal matrix is meaningfully related to the third clinical stage of the delivery, the actual birth of the child.

Imagery following the actual birth can be death-rebirth experiences. As with the other matrices, some of the experiences belonging here seem to represent an accurate replay of the actual biological events involved in birth as well as specific obstetric interventions. […]
Related archetypical themes The death-rebirth experience, a feeling of impending catastrophe of enormous proportions. This results frequently in a strong determination to stop the experience. If allowed to happen, the transition from BPM III to BPM IV involves a sense of annihilation on all imaginable levels physical destruction, emotional debacle, intellectual defeat, ultimate moral failure, and absolute damnation of transcendental proportions This experience of ego death seems to entail an instant merciless destruction of all previous reference points in the life of the individual.
The Crowning […] This experience of total annihilation and of hitting the cosmic bottom is immediately followed by visions of blinding white or golden light of supernatural radiance and beauty. It can be associated with astonishing displays of divine archetypical entities, rainbow spectra, or intricate peacock designs. Also, visions of nature reawakened in spring or refreshed after a tempest and cloudburst can appear in this context.

Edited from Grof: Beyond the Brain p 123


We often experience a tunnel while dying

A tunnel is a universal phenomenon occurring on all levels of existence

whenever there are a shift of dimensions


Near Death Experiences

The individual experiences clinical death.
The voices of doctors or relatives are audible to the person.
The individual experiences moving through a long dark tunnel toward a bright light.
Moving outside the physical body is often reported.
Seeing the physical body from an external vantage point (an “out-of-body experience).
The individual experiences a state of emotional upheaval.Then the person becomes adjusted to this new state of being and may experience mental telepathy.
Visualization of spirits or dead relatives who may act as guides.
Experiencing a feeling of great warmth.
Meeting a being of light.
There is often a replay of life events.

Edited from http://dubinserver.colorado.edu/prj/tpa/p01.html


We can divide our entire existence into four continuously interlinked realities

[…] From the Tibetan Buddhist point of view, we can divide our entire existence into four continuously interlinked realities:

1: life; 2: dying and death; 3: after death; 4: rebirth.
These are known as the four bardos:

1: the natural bardo of this life
2: the painful bardo of dying
3: the luminous bardo of dharmata
4: the karmic bardo of becoming

Sogyal Rinpoche: The Tibetan Book of living and Dying p.12

Bardos may in modern Western language be translated as dimensions or esotheric directions. There seem to be 1000 of these available for Man, as can be seen in the crown chakra.

Chikhai bardo, Chonyi bardo, Sidpa bardo

CHIKHAI BARDO The meeting with the primary White Light or the Ground Luminosity.
CHONYI BARDO: In Sanskrit Dharmata. Because of the contraction or the "fall" from the Divine unity in the Primary Clear Light, we enter the Chonyi bardo. The Primary Clear Light begins to be spread out and mirrored. This is the Secondary Clear Light. The secondary clear light is not God as a unity, but as a multiplicity. At the end of the Chonyi Bardo, the arising negative emotions, starts to solidify into different, false perceptions. The negative emotion and the false perceptions together continues to create the illusory realms that imprisons us into the cycle of birth and rebirth.
SIDPA BARDO: This is the bardo of "becoming", the bardo between death and a new birth. The seeds of the habitual tendencies are reawakening. It is in this bardo there will be a a kind of life-review, a judgement scene.

The Past is dead, the future is unborn, only the present is alive



Being Born: BPM I: Unity with the mother
Dying: Unity with the body
Being Born: BPM II: Opposition to the mother
Dying: Opposition to the body
Denial and Isolation Anger Bargaining Depression
Being Born BPM III: Cooperation with the mother
Dying: Cooperation with the body
Being Born: BPM IV: Separation from the mother
Dying: Clinical death, moving through tunnel towards bright light



Birth and death is exactly the same

In reverse order

The only difference is the subjective, individual readiness

Stanislav Grof describes the the importance of the birth-passage for the individual who is born to life, plus the importance this passage has for the forming of symbols through life.

In The Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, there seems to be the same description, only with the emphasis on the side of death. Being born and dying is two sides of the same whole, the only difference is the subjective, individual readiness.