Psychological Renewal through Return to the Center
Another important type of transpersonal crisis was described by Californian psychiatrist and Jungian analyst John Weir Perry, who called it the “renewal process” (Perry 1974, 1976, 1998). Because of its depth and intensity, this is the type of psychospiritual crisis that is most likely diagnosed as serious mental disease. The experiences of people involved in the renewal process are so strange, extravagant, and far from everyday reality that it seems obvious that some serious pathological process must be affecting the functioning of their brains.
Individuals involved in this kind of crisis experience their psyche as a colossal battlefield where a cosmic combat is being played out between the forces of Good and Evil, or Light and Darkness. They are preoccupied with the theme of death — ritual killing, sacrifice, martyrdom, and afterlife. The problem of opposites fascinates them, particularly issues related to the differences between sexes. They experience themselves as the center of fantastic events that have cosmi relevance and are important for the future of the world. Their visionary states tend to take them farther and farther back — through their own history and the history of humanity, all the way to the creation of the world and the original ideal state of paradise. In this process, they seem to strive for perfection, trying to correct things that went wrong in the past.
After a period of turmoil and confusion, the experiences become more and more pleasant and start moving toward a resolution. The process often culminates in the experience of hieros gamos, or “sacred marriage,” in which the individual is elevated to an illustrious or even divine status and experiences union with an equally distinguished partner. Thi indicates that the masculine and the feminine aspects of the personality are reaching a new balance. The sacred union can be experienced either with an imaginal archetypal figure, or i projected onto an idealized person from one’s life, who then appears to be a karmic partner or a soul mate.
At this time, one can also have experiences involving what Jungian psychology interprets as symbols representing the Self, the transpersonal center that reflects our deepest and true nature and is related to, but not totally identical with, the Hindu concept of Atman-Brahman. In visionary states, it can appear in the form of a source of light of supernatural beauty, radiant spheres, precious stones and jewels, pearls, and other similar symbolic representations. Examples of this development from painful and challenging experiences to th discovery of one’s divinity can be found in John Perry’s books (Perry 1953, 1974, 1976) and in The Stormy Search for the Self, our own book on spiritual emergencies (Grof and Grof 1990).
At this stage of the process, these glorious experiences are interpreted as a personal apotheosis, a ritual celebration that raises one’s experience of oneself to a highly exalted human status or to a state above the human condition altogether — a great leader, a world savior, or even the Lord of the Universe. This is often associated with a profound sense of spiritual rebirth that replaces the earlier preoccupation with death. At the time of completion and integration, one usually envisions an ideal future — a new world governed by love and justice, where all ills and evils have been overcome. As the intensity of the process subsides, the person realizes that the entire drama was a psychological transformation that was limited to his or her inner world and did not involve externa reality.
According to John Perry, the renewal process moves the individual in the direction of what Jung called “individuation” — a full realization and expression of one’s deep potential. One aspect of Perry’s research deserves special notice, sinc it produced what is probably the most convincing evidence against simplistic biological understanding of psychoses. He was able to show that the experiences involved in the renewal process exactly match the main themes of royal dramas that were enacted in many ancient cultures on New Year’s Day.
These ritual dramas celebrating the advent of the new year were performed during what Perry calls “the archaic era of incarnated myth.” This was the period in the history of these cultures when the rulers were considered to be incarnated gods and not ordinary human beings. Examples of such God/kings were the Egyptian pharaohs, the Peruvian Incas, the Hebrew and Hittite kings, or the Chinese and Japanese emperors (Perry 1991).
The positive potential of the renewal process and its deep
connection with archetypal symbolism and with specific periods of human history represents a very compelling argument against the theory that these experiences are chaotic pathological products of diseased brains. They are clearly closely connected with the evolution of consciousness on the individual and collective level.