Answers To Feeling Therapy Oriented Questions (Jan, 1998 - Primal Therapy, Spirituality and the Satori Experience) by Paul Vereshack M.D.

Question:-- What relationship does Primal Therapy have with spirituality and the Satori experience? -- Anonymous

Primal Therapy, Spirituality And The Experience of Sudden Illumination (Satori)

(Notwithstanding his M.D. Dr. Vereshack is not a licensed physician)

by Paul Vereshack, M.D.

Twenty-five or so years ago, a series of events were to take place in my life, which would change forever, my sense of life and death.

I am going to describe them in detail, because I believe that they are part of a potentially universal experience, which can move us as a species, toward higher levels of consciousness and a more spiritually uplifting life.

Let us start at the beginning.

When I finished my twelve years of training, in Arts, Medicine and Psychiatry, I was an emotional wreck.

I had a beautiful office, complete with harpsichord, in the most professionally acceptable section of Toronto. While I certainly felt a great sense of accomplishment, I was none the less, frightened and very depressed.

During my university years, and as part of my training, I had been exposed to many major types of mainstream therapy.In addition, I had actually been in three of them, as a client. They had neither touched my pain or ever come close to healing it.

Having little interest in general psychiatry, I had failed my certification and, tired of being a child in the system, at age thirty two, I decided to leave it. I opened an office of my own and limited my practice to Psychotherapy. In addition, I decided to "throw out" everything I had ever learned.

I would start from the beginning, listen with great care to my clients, and try to learn, without prejudice, from the experiences I would have with them as I went along.

Serendipity, a process that I now trust with all my heart, came to my rescue.

A teenage baby sitter tossed a book on my dining room table and said, "Dr. V., you might like this." It was Gestalt Therapy, by Perls, Hefferline and Goodman. The book contained a series of psychological exercises, which the reader could do alone. I set aside two hours each day at lunch time, lay on my office chesterfield and very carefully worked my way through them. Six months or so later I knew something important had changed.

It would be four more years before I would finally discover Primal Therapy, but the ball had begun rolling.

Next, a woman friend handed me the first book I would ever read, which would make perfect sense to me from start to finish. It was Nature, Man and Woman by Alan Watts, a well know American writer in the area of consciousness raising.

In the bibliography, I found, The Way of Zen by the same writer, and that led me to The Supreme Doctrine, by Hubert Benoit.

This I read to save my life, the same way that I read everything in those years. It was written in the European tradition of hyper intellectuality, and was a very, very complicated book, but I had a strong feeling that what it said, was absolutely central to the human dilemma. It is a study of those things within us which blind our minds to a full comprehension of ultimate reality.

I decided that I would not move from one paragraph to another unless I fully understood each idea. Working from one to two hours every day, it took me two years to read and comprehend this short work.

Without knowing it I was setting the stage for a truly unusual event.

Then the universe moved again.

Someone in my practice threatened my life, and I knew that there was a very real chance that this person would carry out their threat.

I waited for death.

During this time of waiting, I learned about fear; real fear. It is nothing like the fear we feel in a movie, nothing at all. It is in fact so far beyond what most of us ever feel, in our civilized society, as to be on entirely different plane. This kind of fear is what soldiers know in war.

Day after day I lived in gut wrenching terror. Often, it was work, just to breathe. The weeks passed, six of them, and the fear grew worse.

Once again the stage was being set, and then it happened.

I was taking a walk one day, at lunch time, when a twig on the sidewalk, caught my eye. I bent down, picked it up and without thinking about it, bent the twig between my fingers. It snapped, and in that instant, everything changed.

With the sound of the twig breaking, I was suddenly bathed in a golden light, and found myself deep in outer space, gazing into the heart of the universe. In the infinite dark and cold I saw that everything was alive with energy. Absolutely everything was alive; from the most frozen rock to the warmest sun. From the deadest leaf, to the liveliest person, everything was filled with energy. More than this, everything was perfect, good and right.

I perceived these things through some set of senses that I had never accessed before. The vision seemed to flood in through my abdomen, and spread out through my whole body, while at exactly the same moment, I was seeing it with my eyes. It was as though my body, not just my mind was being suddenly saturated with a completely new consciousness.

I saw that the universe was perfect, and that within that perfection, my death was perfectly O.K.

I was instantly filled with a feeling of awe, and this was accompanied by a gratitude so huge that it felt like a state of worship. The feeling was that I had been given an ultimate gift, because with it came a sense of peace which was so profound that it reminded me of the Christian phrase, "The peace which passeth all understanding." Tension drained from my body, so completely, I realized that from the earliest years of my life I had never been free of it.

I was no longer fearful of anything, including my own death.

The feeling of joy and peacefulness lasted six weeks, then slowly began to fade. Although the memory of what had happened remained clear, daily life with its care and worries began to reclaim me. I would never again however be afraid in the same way.

When I had my first primal experience several years later, I was immediately struck by the fact that the feeling of the primal event, along with its sudden expansion of consciousness, was almost exactly the same as the experience of Satori itself.

In my book, Help Me- I'm Tired of Feeling Bad I have listed the levels of expanding consciousness connected to the primal experience. I call this sudden and unique expansion of awareness "Holistic Insight", and I try to show how it is similar and yet different from Sudden Illumination ( Satori).

This section of Chapter Twenty-two is as follows:

Holistic Insight has gradations of quality and extensiveness which can be seen to exist in six stages:

Holistic Insight, Stage One:

Holistic Insight, Stage One, begins with the experience of inwardness which comes to us when we lie down to focus on the inner arena of our life.

We begin to sense the ground of our being, the place where we will study and merge with the previously warded-off parts of our deepest self.

Just as putting our hand in water gives us a direct sense of what water is, so, now, we start to gain a non-verbal, non-intellectual awareness of our inner environment.

This is the beginning of the long, sweet relief of giving a harassed surface self over to a study of our deeper processes.

This relief is increased as we allow our conscious self to fully feel the six ways in which our brain broadcasts its pain to us (specific body sensations, et cetera).

The relief is even further enhanced as we make our congruent expressions to fully merge with these deeper experiences. It is here where Holistic Insight truly begins, when we feel the deeper self and the surface self coming into alignment for the first time. Now the sweep of honesty begins to neutralize the displaced and disguised fruitless struggles of our life.

Stage One, Holistic Insight is, then, the direct non-linear, non-symbolized experience of an inwardness, and a re-alignment between the unconscious and conscious parts of our being, through the use of the techniques of congruence and externalization.

At this level, no specific insight is required; no words, no images and no re-experiencings are necessary. There is, nonetheless, a deep and growing sense that something within us is easing and becoming whole.

Because all these Stage One processes have been without specific insight, and yet deepen our non-specific awarenesss, we can refer to them as TEXTURAL SELF-ENHANCEMENT.

Holistic Insight: Stage Two

Holistic Insight, Stage Two, is marked by the emergence into consciousness of a specific issue, and some of the meaning attached to it.

We have focused inwardly on some discomfort. We are allowing it to fill our awareness. We are merging with it and we may or may not have started to make our congruences. Suddenly we realize something new about ourselves. We become completely aware of a truth concerning our existence.

For example, an argument with someone leaves us feeling very discomforted, with a tightness in our chest. We lie down, focus on the tightness, merge with it, and suddenly find ourselves saying , 'Please don't hurt me.' We repeat this congruence five to ten times, matching the words against the feeling. Suddenly we have the insight that we have been overwhelmingly hurt far more deeply than we realized. We have a sense that, in some way, our whole mind-and-body axis has been rocked on its foundation.

This is a realization which has definite form and insight. It is limited, however, to the present and to the circumscribed event. This is the hallmark of a HOLISTIC INSIGHT, Stage Two. It is non-linear, and comes suddenly in a small wave-front of awareness. It is this instantaneous, gut-level, non-verbal, non-linear knowing which classifies it as a Holistic Experience.

It is holistic because our sense of knowing, and being, instantly expands with the experience itself. It is felt within the mind as clarity, and within the body as relaxation. The enhanced knowing, and the physical relief, are simultaneous and immediate. We have the intriguing deeper sense that, because of what we have just realized, we are suddenly more than we were. The quality of our knowledge expands in many directions. For instance, we realize that we do hurt, and that we are hurtable. There is a shift from a false sense of strength to a sense that we are always vulnerable. And yet, because of our new-found skill, we sense that we are also reparable. We do not have to be rigid and self-protecting. We can live more openly without being destroyed. This is an example of the kind of awareness-expansion which accompanies a typical HOLISTIC INSIGHT.

HOLISTIC INSIGHT, Stage Two, is, then, a sudden, non-linear expansion of present awareness, confined to a single issue, and the insight is internal to the life of the one who experiences it. It is experienced mentally as insight, and physically as relaxation.

Holistic Insight: Stage Three

The third stage of HOLISTIC INSIGHT is a sudden, non-linear awareness which expands laterally in the present to include self and world. For example, a feeling sequence on the mat, after an argument with a boss, can yield the realization not only that we have been deeply hurt (Holistic Insight, Stage Two) but also that the boss is a deeply damaged and therefore hurtful man. We see how his damage permeates the world around him, triggering everybody's pain. We become aware that many people in authority are like this, and we sense things that are intrinsic to negative authority, how it comes about, and how it harms us all.

The third stage of Holistic Insight, then, suddenly enhances our comprehension, not only about matters internal to ourselves, but the insight spreads outward to encompass the world around us, and its dynamics. The awareness confines itself to the present.

Holistic Insight: Stage Four

At this level, realization spans out not only laterally but backward in time. We suddenly see flashes of our existence down through the years as they pertain to our current discomfort. We realize that old pain within us has been activated. Once again, this is a sudden wall of comprehension which bursts in upon us. We are not, however, actually re-living a past event, although we do feel eased, in body and in mind, at the moment of perception .

Holistic Insight: Stage Five

At this level the MAGIC TIME CARPET (Temporal Contextual Shift) is activated. We are in a childhood experience, present awareness fades and we re-live the experience with the completeness and intensity of an actual hallucination. Corridors of connectedness open within our minds, leading from the past event to multiple significant experiences down through our lives. We are suddenly illuminated as to the multiple causes of our existence with regard to important events through time.

The sensation is strange and wondrous as barriers within the mind collapse. The experience seems to take one to three seconds. The aftermath is a most profound knowing on the plane of psychobiology which leaves the body deeply relaxed and changed forever, especially in the structure of its defences. The mind comes to trust openness and vulnerability as part of deep organic function. Self-forgivness and forgivness of others is generated from within a disentangled organic core. A non-judgmental, profoundly ethical stance begins to replace a lifetime of external teachings, and guilt. The brain begins to stand alone with no man and no institution as either its master or generator of forgivness. A sense of the profound complexity and preciousness of life automatically brings compassion and morality.

Stage Five Holistic Insight is the last stage of Holistic Awareness before the great experience of Sudden Illumination or Satori itself, which is the goal of Zen. Stage Five Holistic Insight shares many of the characteristics and qualities of Satori. It is sudden, it is profound, it brings enormous comprehension, it yields exquisite relief to body and mind. It is not, however, actual Satori. It is limited to the plane of psychobiology and confines itself to connections and processes of a wordly nature. That is to say, it is not metaphysical.

Holistic Insight: Stage Six ( Sudden Illumination, or 'Satori')

Because I believe that the mechanisms involved in Psycho-biological Holistic Insight and those in actual Zen-oriented Satori share similar processes, I will include a few brief comments about this ultimate experience.

Satori itself, as I have studied it and experienced it, is a sudden and profound awakening of an altogether different kind of consciousness.

Psychobiological awakening (Holistic Insight) concerns itself with the fracturing of discrete compartments within internal experience. It is obtained by careful and minute attention to inner body states and the creation of the congruences that we have already described. These are mechanisms of mind and body (inquiry within the psychobiological plane) and therefore work in this area issues forth in awareness at this level.

Satori itself is an attempt to fracture the compartmentalization of the mind in a much more profound way. It is an attempt to fracture the absolute ground of symbolization as it pertains to the mind's view of all things. The stage of inquiry is vaster, in fact it is infinite, encompassing the structure of mind, the structure of matter, and the relationship between the two. It also includes the Prime Movement of the universe.

Our perception of all things is now challenged as Satori itself disassembles, in one blinding flash, all symbolic barriers between comprehension and matter itself.

It is for this reason that the Zen Koan, or mind puzzle, is so profoundly enigmatic. The solving of a Zen puzzle (for example, What is the sound of one hand clapping?) brings the actual symbolizing functions of the brain crashing down around us until we and the universe are one. A Zen monk requires years, sometimes decades, of concentrated meditation to achieve final dissolution of such intrinsic brain function.

It is extraordinarily interesting to note that the cultivation of what we shall call Purity of Intent in approaching Holistic Insight is very similar to the cultivation of Purity of Intent in the approach to Satori itself. Both require the same paradoxical process of intensity versus letting go, extraordinary humility, patience, lack of expectation and extreme focus.

The driving force at the psychobiological level is pain. The method is the forging of a link, between present experience and past experience, through the use of congruent feelings. The ultra high level of congruence between a present feeling and a past feeling activates the psychobiologically immaculate process of non-linear Holistic Insight. Holistic Insight is the sudden overwhelming expansion of consciousness within the psychobiological field of enquiry.

The driving force toward the Satori level experience is profound existential dissatisfaction coupled with extraordinarily intense meditational techniques extending over time and employing puzzles which have no solution at the level of the mind's symbolizing processes.

Both processes share a sudden profound expansion of consciousness. Holistic Insight is still confined, however, within its psychological and biological field of examination. Satori shatters all confinement of awareness. It would seem to be the most profound and complete achievement of awareness possible for our biochemically-based consciousness.

Satori shatters the barriers between mind and universe. What then are these barriers? What is it that we all carry around, and are so completely saturated with, that we can't see it?

The most important function of the human brain is dishonesty. It's main job is to lie to us about almost everything until those lies finally coalesce into chronic overwhelming delusion. Living within this delusion we cannot, of course, see anything clearly, certainly not the nature of reality itself.

I cannot see the full extent of this dishonesty but I am beginning to understand some parts of it. What I understand, amazes me.

Human Delusion: Level One, The Image

When something is represented in our mind for instance with a word or an image, that symbol is not the thing it stands for. The symbol lifts us away from the real thing. Mental function at this point becomes displaced away from the universe. We are cut off from it at the same moment that we have acquired the tool with which to represent it and think about it. This may seem like a small matter but it gives the mind building blocks that it can use for it's own purposes without having to deal with reality. We can leap off a building in a dream with no consequences. We can believe what we like about anything without having to check it out. The building blocks of delusion have been set in place.

Human Delusion: Level Two, The Mental mechanisms of Defense

Human needs and impulses are displaced away from their roots into all the varied forms of civilized behavior that we see on the surface. This is dealt with in depth in my book, Help Me- I'm Tired of Feeling Bad, in Chapter Twenty, "The Devices Forces and Trickery Used by the Unconscious to Keep Us Out of Our Own Brain."

What we pursue on the surface is not what is happening deeper down. What we believe to be true is often not. Denial keeps us safe from knowing who we really are, and for that matter who anyone else is. It takes years in a therapy group to begin to really see others and ourselves.

Human delusion: Level Three, The Belief That We Initiate Thought and Action

We don't create thoughts. They come to us, and the same is true of feelings, and the behavior that flows from them. We initiate nothing. We receive it from deeper within and pass it on. Yet at the moment this happens we have the feeling that we are the authors of our actions. We feel as though we are consciously creating our life through our activities when in fact we are receiving it.

Human Delusion: Level Four, The Belief That We Have Freedom of Choice

We can spend years in therapy examining the roots of any given moment of seeming choice. This says that in any given moment of "choice" there is so much unconscious process involved we cannot begin to know in the moment why we choose what we choose. And yet nothing is stronger in humans at any given moment than the feeling they are choosing what they think and do. -

(Editor's note: The author explains his position in the matter of whether we have "freedom of choice" in greater detail in his Interview with the Primal Psychotherapy Page)

* * *

These delusions seem to exist to allow us to function and survive on the planet as physical organisms. They give us the illusion of being consciously in control of our food acquisition and other self and species maintaining behavior. They let us feel as though we are manipulating our world, have power and can survive. In that sense they work.

They are unfortunately lies, and lies that are maintained in spite of any real examination we might conduct.

We receive everything, from our life to our feelings and thought, to our actions and their results. I believe that our profound misunderstanding of this situation, requires energy to maintain, and creates tension within us which can rise to very high levels.

This tension has no real way to dissipate, and there are even more profound levels of tension continuously at work within us.

There is the tension of knowing that we are going to die. We spend a lifetime struggling to live, as though this were not true.Denial of death is one of the great founding and inexorable tensions of our being. There is no relief from it, as we are, and the great majority of humans won't go anywhere near the growth that is necessary to neutralize this paradox.

I believe that whenever the mind creates a delusion, with the necessary level of denial to maintain it, this distortion of reality produces tension (Existential tension). Since almost all our sense of what is, is in fact false, the central nervous system is always under serious tension and is far removed from reality.

This nullification of reality, the subsequent maintenance of our delusion, and the massive denial that must, of necessity accompany all this, displaces us away from the ground of the universe.

We are absolutely incongruent with it. At the level of our belief systems.

This completes the separation from reality, which began with the formation of the original images and symbols that we spoke of earlier in this discussion.

We can now begin to see what satori might be about.

When the tension of our falsely engineered belief systems, regarding our own existence, rises beyond a certain point, which it does under under a wide variety of circumstances, (such as an impossibly painful life event, or a near death experience), it may precipitate a cascade in the symbolizing process of the mind. When this happens and symbolizing disappears, we suddenly "see" the universe without the false lens. There is no lie in this moment to separate us from it.

Now, without symbols, we and the ground of the universe share identical structures. We are one. Delusion crashes, the "Lie" ends and Satori occurs. Tension naturally drops to Zero, somewhat simlilar to what it does on the psychobiological plane, during Holistic Insight. This reduction of tension, with satori, is however far far greater.

Interestingly we still struggle to symbolize even this experience.The Christian sees Christ. The life long science fiction fan, finds himself in outer space. The Botanist might see the wonder in a leaf. Some might just experience the wonder of no thing at all. Just the wonder and awe.

The key thing here is not the carrier wave of the symbolic representation, but the underlying awe itself, as we become aware of the integrated oneness that is the ground of all things.

* * *

The natural order, has created all human beings as creatures of delusion, forever cut off from the ground of existence. We can not set ourselves free until we understand this.

Primal therapy experiences, (Holistic Insight) liberate us from psychological delusion.

Satori liberates us from the delusions beyond psychology; the delusions both inside and seemingly outside of ourselves which separate us from the natural world.

We can now see that these two great phenomena of insight, in fact share similar brain mechanisms. Because of this, complete enlightenment, which was thought to be beyond comprehension, is swimming into view, as something understandable, available for study, and even attainable, through carefully understood kinds of personal work.

The door to a new level of integration between mind and matter is swinging open.

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Question: What do you think about rapidly attained Satori ( Sudden Illuminations)?

Very interesting. If there were a simple way to get to a "Godhead" experience, it would certainly put a short cut in the world's growth work.

It would be a wonderful thing, but it gives me pause as I am sure it does you.

Sudden illumination after years of disciplined effort, tends to teach discipline, and a healthy respect for gradual evolution toward expanded consciouness.

A short cut solution tends to create religious zeal, and cultism.

Now I must say, in all fairness, that if the "Satori" experience is a real one, whatever that means, given the delusional capacities of the human mind, the speed of attainment would be irrelevent. Real awakening banishes delusion of any sort, creates genuine humility, and instills profound wisdom and compassion. Not a bad combination for the human race to inject into itself. Quite species saving I would say.

The terrible truth is however, that I am not sure we can count on the mind's objective integrity.

Touch certain parts of the brain with an electrode and you can stimulate centres that produce profound feelings, from rage to joy. Couple these with ideational content, and presto, CERTAINTY! about things might emerge.

I do believe after my experiences that the universe is "good" that is to say, makes complete sense. I do believe that if we could see it through infinitely expanded "eyes" we would see that all things are, in fact, perfect, and that there is absolutely nothing to fear in any final way. This expanded view, of course, when experienced through the physical mechanisms of our heretofore vulnerable and frightened bodies, could not fail to produce ecstatic joy. After all, who wouldn't be releived, given the problem of human suffering and death, to know that everything is really and finally O.K.

I just think we have to be cautious about how we embrace these awarenesses. I think that we should study them, however, with all our heart, and balanced good will.

Dr Vereshack is the author of an online book entitled Help Me -- I'm Tired of Feeling Bad

Other pages on this website about Dr. Vereshack's writings include:

Book Review of Help Me -- I'm Tired of Feeling Bad
The Primal Page's Favorite Quotations from Help Me -- I'm Tired of Feeling Bad
The Primal Psychotherapy Page Interviews Paul Vereshack, M.D.

Return to Index of Dr. Vereshack's Questions