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Spiritually Transformative Experiences and EHEs: Yvonne Kason
Rhea A. White
Here we summarize Canadian therapist/EHEer/physician Kason’s terminology, classification, and approach to EHEs, or as she calls them, "spiritually transformative experiences." She views them in a therapeutic context because she counsels experiencers professionally. She emphasizes the transformative aspect and draws on the classical kundalini model in theorizing about them. The flyer is based on her book, A Farther Shore, and in-person discussions with her. This 1997 2nd ed. was edited by Dr. Kason.
Yvonne Kason, M.D, is a Toronto family physician and psychotherapist who specializes in counseling persons who are undergoing spiritual emergencies. She is founder/director of the Spiritual Emergence Research and Referral Clinic and author of A Farther Shore: How Near-Death and Other Extraordinary Experiences Can Change Ordinary Lives (HarperCollins, 1994). A Farther Shore is the most complete book to date on exceptional human experiences and counseling approaches for those who are trying to incorporate them into their lives. It is reviewed in detail in EHE News, March 1997. The information on Kason’s work is taken from her book, and all quotations are from it.
This is the third in a series of "Fellow Finders" flyers on the work of scholars who have developed their own approach, terminology, and classification of what we call exceptional human experiences. Our aim in producing these snapshot views is to acquaint persons interested in EHEs with the related work of others, to recognize the important work of these other scholars, to extend the base of knowledge about EHEs, and to point out the similarities and differences between our work and terminology and that of the "fellow finders."
Kason may be the world’s foremost authority on counseling people who have had EHEs because she is not only a highly qualified therapist specializing in these experiences but she has experienced all of the "spiritually transformative experiences" (her term for exceptional human experiences), including an initiatory near-death experience.
Kason contends that spiritual transformation of consciousness is a complex interaction between biological, psychological, and spiritual factors. Therefore, in order to facilitate and maximize the spiritual transformation process towers its ultimate goal self-realization with a more expanded range of consciousness, persons need to strive for balance and health physically, psychologically, and spiritually. "Psychospiritual house-cleaning " is the term Kason uses to describe what she says the essential inner work required, clearing of unconscious psychological and spiritual conflicts from a Western viewpoint, or from a yogic perspective, clearing "samskaras," blocks on the subtle-body formed by unresolved issues from this or past lives. This is one way Kason bridges Western medical and psychological thought with Eastern metaphysical concepts.
As a counselor of people undergoing transformative experiences, Kason is not interested in the fullest possible range of exceptional experiences that we have identified (see the flyer entitled "List of Potential EHEs"), but is only concerned with them when they have reached the stage of Spiritually Transformative Experiences (STEs), or our stage of exceptional human experiences. She views them as "part of a transformation and expansion of consciousness in which we become intermittently capable of perceiving other levels of reality, including what we might consider mystical or paranormal dimensions" (pp. 17-18).
Kason classifies STEs into five broad categories: mystical experiences, psychic awakenings, near-death experiences, spontaneous inspired creativity and genius, and classical kundalini episodes. She subsumes UFO encounters under Psychic Awakenings. We also have used five broad categories, but they cover some ranges of experiences Kason is not concerned with. However, she has gone more intensively into the forms of spiritual awakening than any current author I am aware of, with the possible exception of Stanislav Grof, another pioneer therapist who works with persons undergoing spiritual transformation.
Kason’s classification goes farther than mine in that she classifies STEs in terms of intensity. Those that are extremely powerful she calls STE peaks, or STEPS. She defines a STEP as "a discrete, time-limited episode that is intensely absorbing or even overwhelming. . . They often take a [person] a major step along the spiritual journey" (p. 18).
Kason also covers an aspect of STEs/EHEs that I have not. It involves looking into the energetic basis of these experiences. The model she follows is the yogic concept of Kundalini, but she has adapted it for use by Westerners. She notes that the Eastern literature about Kundalini associates it with all the major STEs she delineates.
In an important step, Kason also extends her classification to the process of transformation itself. She has isolated six typical patterns (see pp. 156-163): (a) a slow increase with notable STEs occurring more often over a period of many years. (b) The occurrence of notable STEs or profound STEPs alternating with periods with no experiences or only a few. (c) The occurrence of episodes STEs or STEPs in stages in which they gradually increase in intensity and frequency. (d) Onset with a notable STE or STEP with a gradual increase in activity, followed by a slow, continuing high activity. (e) An initiatory STEP with continuing high activity. (f) The frequent occurrence of STE activity from birth. (g ) Engaging in spiritual practices over a long period of time that stimulates controlled, gradual awakening.
In line with the clinical approach, Kason also devotes a chapter to physical symptoms associated with STEs, one to psychological symptoms, and one to spiritual and paranormal symptoms (positive and negative). In our more general approach we call them "concomitants" rather than symptoms.
Kason compares the phenomenology of spiritual emergencies and psychoses and how to distinguish them. In an important chapter, she describes "a number of specific factors that seem to predispose people who are undergoing STEs to slip into spiritual emergency or even psychosis" (p. 242). This is followed by two very practical chapters, one entitled "Strategies for Living with Spiritual Transformation" and the other "Surviving Spiritual Transformation and Helping Others Survive." She provides 12 guidelines for use in aiding people who are undergoing transformation. The final chapter offers advice on "Stimulating Healthy Spiritual Transfor-mation."
Kason is a cofounder of the Kundalini Research Network (KRN), an international nonaligned network of doctors, therapists, and others interested in researching and spreading understanding of kundalini. One of the activities of KRN is the Kundalini Research Project, which Kason directs. The aim of this project is to collect data on spiritual transformation and kundalini. Kason devotes a chapter to describing the 30-page questionnaire and some of the preliminary findings. Persons wishing to join the KRN should write them at Box 1150, Cupertino, CA 95015. Phone/fax (408) 257-0241. Persons who wish to complete a KRN Questionnaire may write Yvonne Kason, M.D.; P.O. Box 88058; 2975 Kingston Road; Scarborough, Ontario; Canada M1M 1N0.
The EHE and STE classifications cover much the same experiential territory. The former is broader in scope and the latter is more intensive. THE EHE list (available from the EHE Network and listed on our Web page: http://www4.coastalnet.com/ehenet) emphasizes potentially transformative anomalous experiences, whereas Kason’s STE list specifically concentrates on the transformative ones. THE EHE hypothesis is that all human psychological anomalies are potential transformative. Kason zeroes in on those that occur just prior to or during the process of transformation. I have been struggling with the problem of apparent "negative" EHEs or aspects of them. Kason sheds light on this by thinking of them as challenging rather than negative. This dovetails with my emphasis on viewing EHEs not as one-time events but as initiators of a process. If an experience with negative qualities is perceived as an event, then it is likely to be labeled "negative" ever after—one that is best forgotten. But if the experience is viewed as part of a process of transformation, then—as Kason suggests—it can be seen as challenging. The seemingly negative aspects may point to a need for spiritual transformation and may even provide hints as to what should be concentrated on at that stage of the process.
In concentrating her book on spiritually transformative experience and process, Kason has carried the study and understanding of STEs/EHEs to new heights—and profound depths.
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