Lesson 7 - Stanislav Grof



Stanislav Grof (born 1931 in Prague, Czechoslovakia) is one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology and a pioneering researcher into the use of altered states of consciousness for purposes of healing, growth, and insight.

Grof is known in particular for his early studies of LSD and its effects on the psyche—the field of psychedelic psychotherapy. He constructed a theoretical framework for pre- and perinatal psychology and transpersonal psychology in which LSD trips and other powerfully emotional experiences were mapped onto one’s early fetal and neonatal experiences. Over time, this theory developed into an in-depth cartography of the deep human psyche. Following the legal suppression of LSD use in the late 1960s, Grof went on to discover that many of these states of mind could be explored without drugs and instead by using certain breathing techniques in a supportive environment. He continues this work today under the title "Holotropic Breathwork".

Edited from Wicipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislav_Grof

Stanislav Grof operates with 3 categories
in the human psyche:

  • The Biographical layer Our personal history and our personal unconsciousness.

  • The Perinatal layer The encounter with birth and death, as they occur in the birth-trauma.

  • The Transpersonal layer The consciousness expanded beyond the usual ego boundaries, beyond the usual orientation in time and space.

Important representatives for the 3 levels:

  • Biographical: Freud

  • Perinatal: Grof, Rank

  • Transpersonal: Jung, Assaglioli, Grof Ken Wilber






Ken Wilber


And many more!

We will not go into the history of the concepts,
just work with them from Grof’s understanding and use of the terms.


The Law of resonance

A COEX system is a dynamic constellation of memories (and associated fantasy material) from different periods of the individual’s life, with the common denominator of a strong emotional charge of the same quality, intense physical sensation of the same kind, or the fact that they share some other important elements.

Grof, Beyond the Brain p.97

The COEX systems

The COEX systems represent a general organising principle operating on all levels of the psyche.

Now → Earlier similar event → Earlier similar event →
Earlier similar event → ( … ) → Birth→ Myth→ Past life

It is not uncommon for a dynamic constellation (COEX system) to comprise material from several biographical periods, from biological birth and from certain areas of the transpersonal realm, such as past incarnation memories, animal identification, and mythological sequences.

Grof: Beyond the Brain p.97

The COEX system may not uncover in the linear time order


A diagram used by Jung’s famous pupil, Marie-Louise Von Franz
to illustrate the hierarchical structure of the unconscious.

(A): The outermost small circles represent the ego consciousness of human beings.
(B): The deeper layers depict the spheres of the personal unconscious discovered by Freud.
(C): Below lie the domains of the group unconscious of families, groups, clans, and tribes
(D): Further the large spheres of the common unconscious of wide national units that share important mythological motifs, such as the Australian Aborigines or South American Indians
(E): Finally, the central area constitutes the universal pool of archetypal structures shared by all of humanity.
Most psychological schools tend to highlight the emotional traumas in relation to events,

not the physical traumas.


A traditional approach to an early hospitalisation because of for example a broken leg, would be to work with the lack of nourishment from the mother figure etc. not with the impact of the physical trauma, the pain, etc.
Deeper work in psychotherapy reveals much more need to emphasis the physical traumas.



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.


A general idea of the impact from the different stages could be:

BPM I: Positive experiences: Trust, expansion, union with the cosmos.
Negative experiences: Paranoia, hypochondria, confusing daydreams with reality

BPM II: Positive experiences?
Negative experiences: Depression, “cardboard world� inferiority and guilt alcohol and drug dependency.

BPM III: Positive experiences: “It pays to fight for something�
Negative experiences: Sadomasochism, scatological elements, obsessive-compulsive neurosis, stammering, migraine headache.

BPM IV: Positive experiences: The world is a beautiful and safe place
Negative experiences: Total annihilation, ego death, manic experiences.




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.

Artist: Hansruidi Giger


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. In this final stage, the agonizing process of the birth struggle comes to an end; the propulsion through the birth canal culminates and the extreme build-up of pain, tension, and sexual arousal is followed by a sudden relief and relaxation. The child is born and, after a long period in darkness, faces for the first time the intense light of the day (or the operating room). After the umbilical cord is cut, the physical separation from the mother has been completed and the child begins its new existence as an anatomically independent individual.


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 of 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 Bird phoenix,

A symbol related to the transition from BPM III to BPM IV

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.

Grof: Beyond the Brain p 123