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The World After Primal Therapy

by Dan Miller, Ph.D.

"As both patient and therapist I have had to deal with the problem of "too much too soon" and "too little and too late." As therapist you realize that it is necessary to set a pace that will not fall into either of those two traps because the first will scare a patient out of therapy or create more defensiveness, and the second is just too dull and ineffective for everyone concerned.

Perhaps the additional very important factor is the patient-therapist relationship. There needs to be some build-up of trust that comes out of the therapist's really caring what happens to his patient. That gives him/her a clue as to how far to go and whether the patient has the resilience and self-awareness that will help him/her to cope with whatever trauma is being re-energized.

That awareness takes time to develop, but when it is in place that initial issue of timing for the arousal of memories becomes less important. Trauma has its own agenda and will push forward for attention when it feels safe to do so and receive the attention it needs.

Early primal in the ''70's lacked consideration of the patient-therapist relationship factor because everyone pushed for the quick cure and consequently a great deal of damage was done both to patients and to primal's real healing capability. The least we can do is continue learning."

-- Daniel Miller, Ph.D.

We know now that Janov was wrong, and that all growth and development did not stop with primal therapy. Therefore, we have been looking at what has been happening to people once their primal screams seem to decrease or die away. Is there really a primal heaven where life is forever peaceful, beautiful, and cured? No, it seems that "cured" is easier for hams than it is for people.

The awesome reality seems to be that there is no end to the growth potential of the human organism. Change is the groundwork of human life, and "curing" is more like a stopping than a developmental unfolding of the life force. A continuation of investment in your growth means that you allow yourself to experience whatever comes your way, not necessarily as in primal (for the sake of going with it to grab at feelings, for the catharsis. or to show you scream louder than anyone else, so you can get into primal heaven), but for the sake of awareness, of self-knowledge, to understand how to relate to others whom you love and want to love better, and to gain fulfillment of your capabilities.

The world after primal seems a quieter, less intense place. There are still a lot of problems to deal with, but they seem to have a broader scope. It's not simply a matter of how I deal with the pain that an individual gives me, but what kind of input I shall make to help relieve the pain of society's ills, and what death is all about anyway, and what I shall do with the spiritual experiences I'm having? How can I intersect with the world around me in a positive way, above and beyond the way that my job demands?

I have to acknowledge that I learned an awful lot about myself, and about people generally, from doing primal, and that primal is responsible for helping me to free myself from a lot of stuff that had been hanging me up for a long time during my life. I know there are emotions in my little-child reservoir that can still suck me in, to a degree, but since I now know what they are, I feel able to handle them differently, with a little more pizazz, it you know what I mean. That gives me the liberty to be involved in the world in a somewhat different way than I was used to. It means I don't seem to dwell on the painful thing - not because I'm trying to avoid it or suppress it to look good, but because it just isn't there the way it used to be. I can take more of the good things of life for myself and therefore find it easier to give out more of the good things to others.

Along with the good things has come an increasing spiritual awareness. It evolved out of those inexplicable experiences after primals when I found myself somewhere among the clouds, and then, somewhere in another time and another place. Looking back on it now, it seemed as if my unconscious continued to open up after the primal stuff was unloaded. I couldn't identify what it was at first, because it was not familiar to my life and time as I knew them, but the experiences were just as real as any feelings I'd had in this life.

Some of these experiences were beautiful, some were whimsical, and some were painful again and returned me to primal states, but they all taught me something more about the life I lead in the here and now, and thereby enriched me.

I feel that the spiritual dimension is important in several different ways. It's like that pebble in the pond that keeps on spreading out, whose waves seem to be able to go on indefinitely. It provides a sense of tapping into resources that are simultaneously immediate and infinite. It gives you an awareness that the universe is built, not on physical matter, but on something else that has resulted in physical matter.

Of course everybody has his or her own name for this something else, and you can pick the one that feels comfortable to you, but it all boils down to the same thing. It's something like the fact that scientists keep splitting the atom into smaller and smaller parts, expecting to find the first source of energy, but somehow it always eludes them. That's because it's not of the atom: it's something beyond the atom, and beyond all of its subparts.

It turns out, when you read Fritjof Capra and Stanislav Grof, that the scientists are coming up with pretty much the same conclusions that the eastern mystics reached a couple of thousand years ago, and that Gilbert and Sullivan's players sang of in H.M.S. PInafore. "Things are seldom what they seem. . ."

The search then, after primal, is not just for the sources of myself - although that is still a part of it - but a search for the sources of everything around me. They joined forces, inevitably, with the acceptance of past, present, and future events, forming one ball of twine, there is the realization that when you begin to try to unravel the ball you unexpectedly discover that you are looking at all the sources together.

That brings me to my friend Jean-Louis. He was a French-Egyptian Jew and, as if that wasn't hard enough, was a self-educated physicist. He knew a lot more than I do, his life thus ended tragically. He couldn't live with what he knew while all others had their heads in the sand. We had these great conversations about the relation of physics to psychology and to the spiritual universe - about fifteen years ago, long before anyone else came out with these ideas.

He spent his life writing a book about this, and developed mathematical formulae for it, relating it all to the way in which past, present, and future are one ball of twine. He tried for years to get the book published, but no one would bother with it, if they even read it.

Finally, his wife left him too. It all got to be too much, and he committed suicide. He left me some minor items of furniture in his meager will, and somebody else in Europe got the book, which has disappeared now.

The rest of this is weird, no doubt about it, but without it the story really doesn't get to the point. There I was, sitting in the middle of a friend's backyard on Long Island, at a barbecue dinner, on that kind of perfect day about two years after Jean-Louis' death, having a bit too much to smoke maybe, when I started feeling electrical sensations run through my body.

After ten minutes spent trying to eat a delicious steak (I ate meat in those days), my body feeling as if it was revving up to take off like a helicopter, I gave up and asked if I could go lie down. Soon after, I started freaking out because this voice was talking to me in French, and I started to talk to it in French. Well. I knew some French from college, before I started doing workshops in France, but this time it was much more grammatical and easy than I'd ever experienced. The substance of it was that this voice was taking me to task for not pursuing my interest in the psychological-physical-spirituaI stuff. I had never had those conversations with anyone but Jean-Louis, but he was dead. So I had to try to figure out what was happening.

The electrical dynamo in my body quieted down after a while, much to my relief, and I haven't had that intensity of sensation since. There are several obvious ways to explain the incident. One is that Jean-Louis came back to give me the message; the others are that the smoke -or maybe the steak-gave me the message. (it was probably the steak, because I gave up steak right afterwards, and I haven't re-experienced the dynamo since. That's if you want to be scientific about it!)

Anyway, as a result, "What's happening?" seems to me a very big question, although people ask it every day and get nothing but shrugs, sighs, and silence. Of course, these days I tend more toward the Jean-Louis explanation than toward the steak explanation. but I'm still open-minded.

This is one of a series of events that took place that ultimately changed my outlook. There were a number of other experiences that gave me the sense of the past flowing into the present, giving me the realization that "the present" is what we call the intersection between "the past" and "the future." What we experience as a present time is a continually changing point in an organic flow of energy, and we who do the experiencing are like an eruption from the energy into another of s muItitudinous forms. If you don't understand what I mean, forget it -, I'm not good at explaining things.

It became evident to me that past, present, and future are in a fluid state, continually interacting with one another and not at all fixed and separated. There is no need to ask "how" or "why" this is so. It's so basic that there is no mechanism to explain it, at least not yet, not until the atom is split again, only to find the existence of an even greater unity in the organic energy of the universe.

I think that primal has been operating intuitively with this idea underneath it, but it you consciously accept and deal with this notion, then you have to allow that any therapy session ought to explore the whole evolutionary history of the human race. As that's overwhelming, don't take me literally, but you can see the rationale for not stopping at birth, but instead going further back in time to past lives.

That's what I'm doing now. I'm doing it for myself, and helping other people get there as well. Past-lives therapy is remarkable in that it isn't necessary for a person believe in transpersonal phenomena to benefit from it. All that's necessary is acceptance of the process by which the therapy takes place. Well then, you might ask, what happens if a person has some weird experiences that he/she doesn't recognize as something from either a current or a past life?

Some would answer that the experience is a symbolic representation of feelings in the unconscious that have been disguised in a way somewhat similar to the dream process, although they occur while one is still awake. I offer people this explanation, but I find that after a session they see the event as a past-life experience, no matter how skeptical they were before.

What it invariably does is to bring sharply into focus conflicts that have plagued a person for many years, and in a way that's much clearer than ever before. The difference between this and other therapies is due to being able suddenly to see an overview of the whole situation of the conflict instead of just fractured piecemeal events. The large resulting insight enables a person to see his or her own past-life contribution to difficulties in contemporary situations. The way to understand this is perceive past and present as related in a continuous flow.

Our lives have continuity from past lives to present life to future life, and do not exist as a fragmentation. Therefore, anything you do for yourself now will also affect everything else that will happen to you from this point on. The fragmentation is part of the maya, as Buddhists say, or the illusion of life. We have to dispel these illusions in order to get down to the reality.

A person may uncover a past-lives history that is very dramatic, primal, and cathartic, or one that is not expressed with deep emotion. There is the possibility that a history that does not achieve abreaction of the contents leaves the person with the potential to act out the problem in daily life, unless his/her awareness is sufficiently strong to resist the tendency toward self-defeating behavior. Therefore, there are two possible ways to change behavior.

One is a deep cathartic reaction to an event, which is then seen in terms of current, ongoing habitual problems, and the second occurs when the conscious knowledge of a behavior pattern comes to the foreground of awareness almost simultaneously with the emotional responses that motivate it. Then the reality-testing aspect of a person's difficult relationship will take over from the need to act it out.

When a deep catharsis takes place in a past-lives event there is an overwhelming sense of having experienced something wonderful. The "something wonderful" is a very healing experience. The person has usually expressed deeply repressed feelings of guilt over not having taken responsibility for causing, whether it is true or not, painful experiences to others, or deep rage about painful experiences inflicted on oneself, whether intentionally or not.

The repressed feelings usually block a person's ability to love completely or to give oneself fulfillment in setting goals. The healing experience is a cleaning out or purification, a burning up of the garbage of a burdensome tape that a person has been carrying around for many years. It releases energies that have been blocked off, allowing forward movement in a person's life again.

A past-lives therapy experience is in some ways similar to what occurs in primal therapy. In this sense it belongs on a continuum with primal, and some of the same techniques may be utilized to produce a catharsis once the significant past life has been reached. However, there are differences.

For instance, in a past-life session the person can voluntarily move the time of the life-events several years forward or backward and even reproduce the way that death was experienced in that lifetime. The scope of the session can be broad enough to run past an entire lifetime, like watching different frames on a given film reel with a telescopic lens. This is what develops into the kind of focusing that creates insights with a long and sometimes amazing perspective.

Nevertheless, this too is subject to a person's commitment to his/her growth process, and is thus going to be impeded at times by anxieties, doubts, and fears about what is happening. Change itself causes anxiety because the somatopsyche (bodymind) isn't used to drastic changes in its way of functioning, even if its pattern is neurotic and frustrating. These have to be dealt with because durable changes cannot happen overnight. Despite the fact that many people seem to want it, there is no magic cure available. Behavior patterns are deeply embedded in the somatopsyche.

They are in nervous system connections, biochemical responses, body structure, and in the way you balance out their complicated and often sensitive interrelationship with the environment, the sum of which makes up what we call thinking, emotions, and behavior. The outcome also takes the form of physical health or sickness, as well as mental health or sickness. Mental processes are not really just in your mind, they are the product in sum of your somatopsyche, in the Gestalt sense of the sum's being greater than its parts. To complicate it further, your sornatopsyche is the product of all your past-life experiences.

I wish to emphasize that great initial insights do not automatically create all the changes desired to achieve fulfillment of a person's potential. Neither, however, is it necessary to return to all the events of childhood, nor to all the past lives that ever took place, to create the desired changes. Changes that are durable take place as a result of consistent application to gain higher levels of conscious awareness. Sometimes healing takes place through a spontaneous insightful outcome of accumulated selt-realizations, and other changes are the result of a conscious determination to take the risks that development toward a higher goal entails. Usually it's a combination of both.

Without necessarily trying to find out something about the spiritual aspect of existence, it should nonetheless not be surprising to discover that past-life therapy opens up the person to question life more deeply. The mystery feeling of it seems both more relevant and closer to an answer Thus you might ask, "If what we experience in the here and now of this lifetime is not all there is, then how much more is there?"

It becomes possible to believe that we are just experiencing the tip of the iceberg, with most of life buried in the depths and heights of something beyond what we are used to acknowledging in our helter-skelter lives. Then the questions may become, "How much of your life do you truly own, how far do you dare to see, how much of the inexplicable will you risk exploring, and if you recognize it will you dare to accept it? How much of your ego will you risk getting dented by reaching beyond the safety of your known reality?"

It may ultimately lead to uncovering a universe inside and outside the experience of the Self that is frightening before it is beautiful. Therefore, not everyone chooses to take this trip, and that's a terrible loss of potential enrichment. I hope you'll take the trip someday.

Dr. Miller is the author of The Unseen Universe: Of Mind and Matter

This article is from the July, 1986 issue of Aesthema, published by the International Primal Association.

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