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Erich Neumann, the Inner Path, and the EHE Process: [Oxman and Others]
Rhea A. White
Thomas E. Oxman, Stanley D. Rosenberg, Paula P. Schnurr, Gary J. Tucker, and Gary Gala, in the "The Language of Altered States," report in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease on their research on differences is altered states using an autobiographical approach similar to EHEN’s use of EHE autobiographies. In this 1997 flyer their methodology, findings, and theorizing are related to our work with exceptional human experiences. Their work provides several potential leads for EHE research.
An article that in several respects is a forerunner of our work with exceptional human experiences (EHEs) is "The Language of Altered States" by Thomas E. Oxman et al. published in Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease (1998, Vol. 176, pp. 401-408). They review several empirical studies in which schizophrenia and altered states (mainly associated with hallucinogenic drugs and mystical experiences) are compared with the aim of looking for common factors. I could not help but wonder, in reading some of the life-depotentiating conclusions drawn from these studies by their authors, whether the conclusions may not simply have been due to the physicalistic paradigm, which limited their thinking. For example, several researchers observed that schizophrenia, hallucinogenic drugs, and mystical experiences were characterized by a greater awareness of altered states and more vital inner life; primary process thinking, which is centered on "things" rather than "words"; and there were various alterations in the sense of time, body image, and other humans. The sense of self-perception, on the other hand, was erased. Viewed from the EHE perspective, these features can be seen as life potentiating, because they involve breaking away from the physicalistic paradigm and having first-hand experience of some features of the Experiential Paradigm.
Oxman et al.’s work, on the other hand, is ground-breaking in that the authors observe that in spite of differences, "each of these three states has a profound impact on the way in which a person views himself or herself and experiences the world" (p. 402). They also suggest that although these varied forms of alternate consciousness "may have unique individual characteristics, they appear to be equivalent in their ability to upset the stability of the usual organization of previous self-experience." And they note that "this lack of stability [italics added] results in a self-experience that feels radically different" (p. 402) from the customary mode.
The EHE Network, too, is studying how the over 300 types of exceptional (i.e., anomalous) experiences that appear to have a psychological impact on the experiencer’s sense of identity and worldview may differ, and also how they are the same. Our informal observations indicate that whereas the experiences may differ widely, the aftereffects are often similar.
Oxman et al. also are pioneers in that they examine broad aspects of self-experience during altered states rather than focusing mainly on cognitive or symptomatic phenomena. They also see the value of working with published autobiographical accounts combined with computerized content analysis as an optimum method of advancing knowledge of the role alternate states play. (We have emphasized the role of autobiographical accounts, not only of the experience itself, but its immediate impact and aftereffects. We have also carried it further by introducing the technique of EHE autobiography, which enables us to see the role that EHEs play over a span of the experiencer’s life to date.)
Oxman et al. worked with accounts published in journal or book form. The account had to be at least "several hundred words" in length. They located 19 schizophrenic, 26 hallucinogenic drug, and 21 mystical experience accounts. They used 66 matched autobio-graphical controls consisting of accounts of important personal experiences. They then performed a computer content analysis of all four types of accounts and found significant differences between group means for 13 of the 83 categories of the Dartmouth Adaptation of the Harvard III Psychosociological Dictionary. Space does not permit review of the differences in the four groups, but at base, they report that the schizophrenic group emphasized illness/deviance themes; hallucinogenic drug participants stressed altered sensory experience; the focus of the mystical accounts was "on religious/spiritual issues;" and the control subjects were concerned with "adaptive and interpersonal" (p. 405 ) Although these differences appear to be related to the various altered states, at least in part they may have been due to the experiencer’s stage of consciousness, or more likely, which stage of consciousness they were leaving and which one they were moving toward (see Jenny Wade, Changes of Mind, SUNY Press, 1996).
The lexical approach they used was very successful in elucidating the differences in the four groups by their choice of words. They found that "autobiographical recall of altered states appears to produce rather different experiential profiles" (p. 406) based on the thematic constructions used. They also found that the four groups were easily distinguishable from one another "based only on lexical frequencies" (p. 406). The feature of their data they found of most interest was that the similarity between different individuals in the same group is "conveyed by the quantitative summary of word usage, regardless of the specific denotative context" (p. 406). In other words, the same words are not used in the same way across the four groups. Rather, in each case words used most often in one group are generally used differently than the way they are used in each of the other groups. Oxman et al. interpret their findings as indicating "a clear dissimilarity among altered states, but a strong internal consistency to the experience related by individuals undergoing each of the specific altered states" (p. 407). This approach seems to be one that should be applied to comparable studies of all types of exceptional experience.
The authors point out the social and cultural factors that limit the autobiographical accounts: "In the effort to reconnect their lives to socially meaningful schemata, each group...used the specific metaphors that would define their experiences as a ritual passage from one kind of social identity to a transformed but still valid new identity....Yet the very experience as lived cannot be ultimately separated from the narrative imperative by which we strive to understand all meaningful life events" (p. 407). This could also be viewed not as a limitation or contaminant but as a confirmation of Wade’s (1996) view that as a person is constrained to move on to the next stage of consciousness a change of identity occurs. This is similar to the EHE Network’s hypothesis that EHEs play a central role in moving between states and stages of consciousness. In such a view, we expect and hope to find that the person is weaving his or her experiences into a new self-narrative.
Similarly, instead of viewing the "narrative imperative" (marvelous term!) as a weakness or constraint in research with autobiographical accounts, it can be seen as an important asset. Everyone’s seeming biological, social, and cultural limitations are needed to provide both the impetus for and the means of springing beyond to another stage or level of experience that is more all encompassing. They fuel the "narrative imperative" and enhance its capacity to allow experiencers to keep on growing. Whatever the "fullest" stage reached may be, this in turn will prove to be confining, and it, too, will have to be superseded by a still more all-encompassing stage of awareness. We propose that the EHE hypothesis, particularly that of the EHE process, enables us to see transition and change as potentiating in themselves and also as the means by which humans continuously discover and rediscover they are more than they thought they were.
Thus, from one viewpoint what is seen as a limit or a wall, from another can be seen as a door to new possibilities.
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