LSD – Doorway to the Numinous By Stanislav Grof
First published in 1975 under the title ‘Realms of the human unconscious’, this 2nd edition entitled ‘LSD – Doorway to the Numinous’ chronicles 17 years of investigation by researcher and psychiatrist Stanislav Grof into LSD. The book has become one of the central texts in the psychedelic corpus.
Stanislav Grof was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1931. He began researching LSD and during the mid-1960s he was invited to join the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore and took up permanent residence in the States. In 1973 he joined the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California where he continued to develop his ideas. He is also one of the founding fathers of transpersonal psychology.
The book presents Grof’s research into nonordinary states of reality induced by LSD in human subjects. His theoretical model of the psyche has had a huge impact on both psychedelic circles and the wider scientific arena of consciousness. The breadth of the studies are eye-opening:
“Exploration of the potential of psychedelics for the study of schizophrenia, for didactic purposes, for a deeper understanding of art and religion, for personality diagnostics and the therapy of emotional disorders, and for transforming the experience of dying.”[xvii]
I approached this book somewhat tentatively at first, my knowledge of science is limited and I find the language is often constraining. However, Grof has managed to put across some very heady ideas in both a tangible and fluid manner. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my science dictionary out a number times but ultimately the book remained engaging throughout and Grof was sympathetically explanatory about his terminology.
Grof’s General Introduction cuts through the misinformation, hitherto “distorted by commercial and political pressures” and takes an objective, scientific approach in his appraisal. First he contextualizes LSD historically and then proceeds to build an “empirical basis for a new theoretical framework.” One of his primary concerns is understanding and communicating LSD and its possible applications as a dynamic rooted in the subject.
“The description of the new model of the unconscious based on LSD research presents considerable difficulties. This model reflects a multi-dimensional and multilevel continuum for mutually overlapping and interacting phenomena. For didactic purposes, the object of discussion has to be dissected and its elements isolated from their broader contexts.”[p.32]
During the initial stages of an LSD experience, the subject relates “abstract and aestheticexperiences.” Grof briefly explores some of these forms before examining psychodynamic, perinatal and transpersonal LSD experiences. Grof, by delving into his knowledge of over 1500 observed sessions, has related a vast compendium of information into a dynamically, functional system.
One of the key concepts in his evaluation is the COEX system (systems of condensed experience) that he defines as “a specific constellation of memories consisting of condensed experiences (and related fantasies) from different life periods of the individual.” The COEX system is invaluable in understanding a multi-layered experience that often exhibits elements of the psychodynamic (relatable to usual states of consciousness,) perinatal (relating to life processes like birth and death) and the transpersonal.
The transpersonal is, of course, Grof’s primary research area. He describes it as “experiences involving an expansion or extension of consciousness beyond the usual ego boundaries and beyond the limitations of time and/or space.” There are detailed explorations of these experiences, which use both quantative and qualitative research. On the whole, the transpersonal section is the most contentious for the wider scientific community but, certainly, the most interesting to think about.
For any serious student of psychedelics or psychology this is an important read that should not be ignored. In terms of building a foundation for the future of the psychedelic movement and finding a place for psychedelics in society ‘LSD – Doorway to the Numinous’ is without question the text. Authoritative, insightful and self-aware.