Introduction to Transpersonal Perinatal Psychology

Daniel Mirante


Added on June 20, 2020

Perinatal means ‘around birth’. It is based on the postulate that the human being retains ‘memory traces’ or imprints of its gestation and birth.

Alex Grey

 ‘ Is it a vision of other worlds, or of the darknesses of the spirit, or of the primal beginnings of the human psyche?’

Carl Jung (CW15, “Man in Spirit, Art and Literature”, para.141)

This layer of the consciousness is proposed as a deep level of the unconscious, with spiritual qualities, that the person is in contact with in the prepersonal stage of development[1] and may access later in life in certain transpersonal states of consciousness, and integrate into the adult psyche what were previously unconscious dynamics. This ‘spiral path’ has been eluded to in many mystical traditions such as the Eastern Orthodox Christianity. “The process of changing from the old man of sin into the newborn child of God and into our true nature as good and divine is called Theosis.” Perinatal psychology indicates that such metaphors may have their roots in primal ‘death rebirth’ dynamics.

Prenatal psychology is able to shed light on various experiences which appear to be creative mechanisms for coping with difficult situations of transition in life but which on closer inspection also seem to be re-enactments of pre-birth feelings and of birth itself. The symbolism of regression to the womb and of rebirth can be found in various cultural phenomena such as puberty rites, shamanism, the myths of great heroes, fairy tales, sacrificial rituals and initiation fights. However, the same basic pattern can also be seen to lie within the abstractions of philosophy and behind modern, technological enterprise. This basic, recurring pattern of symbolic regression and rebirth appears to be the fundamental way in which pre- and perinatal experience influences postnatal consciousness. The concept of narcissistic transformation is used to define such manifestations of early experience. The potential of this concept to elucidate cultural phenomena can only be hinted at here by exploring in a limited way its application to certain, central areas.

The Expression of Pre- and Perinatal Experience in Cultural Phenomena
Authors: Ludwig Janus
Issue: Volume 5, Issue 3
Publication Date: March, 1991

Stanislav Grof has attempted to map the perinatal domains of psyche through the BPM theory (birth-perinatal matrices).


Death-Rebirth Mysteries : Grof’s Birth-Perinatal matrices

Perinatal matrices or basic perinatal matrices, in pre-perinatal and transpersonal psychology, is a theoretical model of describing the state of awareness before and during birth.

According to Grof, there are four “hypothetical dynamic matrices governing the processes related to the perinatal level of the unconsciousness”,  called “basic perinatal matrices” (BPM). These BPM’s correspond to the stages of birth during the process of childbirth. [2]

BPM I: The Amniotic Universe

This is the original symbiotic unity of the fetus with the maternal organism. Elements of this state can be accompanied with, or alternate with, experiences of a lack of boundaries and obstructions, such as the ocean and the cosmos. The extreme expression of the sacred and spiritual quality of BPM I is the experience of cosmic unity and the unio mystica [2].

BPM II: Cosmic Engulfment and No Exit

This matrix starts with the onset of labor. The intrusion of chemicals and the pressures of labor change the situation in the womb, and “interrupt the fetus’ blissful connection with the mother and alter its pristine universe.” Accessing this layer gives rise to strong feeling of “no escape”. When experiencing this level, the sense of loneliness and helplessness is overwhelming.

BPM III: The Death-Rebirth Struggle

This matrix is connected with the move of the fetus through the birth channel. It involves a struggle for survival. When experiencing this layer, strong aggression and demonic forces are encountered.[1] Biographical memories associated with this matrix include struggles, fights, and adventurous activities.

BPM IV: The Death-Rebirth Experience

This matrix is related to the stage of delivery, the actual birth of the child.[1] The build up of tension, pain and anxiety is suddenly released.[1] The symbolic counterpart is the Death-Rebirth Experience, in which the individual may have a strong feeling of impending catastrophe, and may be desperately struggling to stop this process.[1] The transition from BPM III to BPM IV may involve a sense of total annihilation:[1]

This experience of ego death seems to entail an instant merciless destruction of all previous reference points in the life of the individual.[1]

According to Grof what dies in this process is “a basically paranoid attitude toward the world which reflects the negative experience of the subject during childbirth and later.”[2] When experienced in its final and most complete form,

…ego death means an irreversible end to one’s philosophical identification with what Alan Watts called skin-encapsulated ego.”[2]

References

[1] Anderson, Rosemarie. “Book Review: Washburn, Michael. (2003). Embodied spirituality in a sacred world.” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2005, Vol. 37, No. 2).

[2] Grof, Stanislav (1988), The Adventure of Self-Discovery. Dimensions of Consciousness and New Perspectives in Psychotherapy and Inner Exploration, SUNY Press, ISBN 9780887065408


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