LSD, NDEs and the Future of Humanity

A Dialogue Between Ken Ring and Chris Bache

What follows isn't for everyone. First, it will appeal mainly to people interested in LSD adventures in consciousness and their possible relationship to NDEs. Second, it is very long and will require about a half hour of your time. Third, it is mostly about a recent book by Chris Bache entitled LSD and the Mind of the Universe.

This document consists of two parts. First, there is a brief review of Chris Bache's book for those who are not familiar with it. After that, there is a dialogue between Ken Ring and Chris Bache entitled "Are Deep Psychological Experiences Trustable?"

So, if you’re interested, you can start with this review of Chris Bache’s book.

LSD and the Mind of the Universe by Christopher M Bache
BY ROBERT DICKINS · FEBRUARY 19, 2020

LSD and the Mind of the Universe: Diamonds from Heaven (2019) by Christopher M. Bache is an exploration of the author’s 73 LSD experiences undertaken between 1979 and 1999. Bache is currently professor emeritus in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Youngstown State University, a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and on the adjunct faculty at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He is also on the advisory board of the Grof Foundation, and has written several other books, including Dark Night, Early Dawn (2000) and The Living Classroom (2008).

Bache first become interested in LSD when he read Realms of the Human Unconscious (1975) by the psychiatrist Stanislav Grof  in 1978. A widely revered LSD researcher who also developed Holotropic Breathwork, Grof’s work has been foundational for transpersonal psychology and the psychedelic movement. This introduction via Grof was hugely influential on Bache, and this is reflected in his methodology. Using his psychologist wife as a sitter, he developed "a protocol that combines protected, interior focus, and deeply evocative music [that] drives the psychedelic state far beyond what one is likely to experience if one takes LSD in a recreational setting" (Bache 2019: 9). He does, however, move the method on.

Two principal LSD therapies were developed in the mid-twentieth century: the psychedelic and psycholytic. The former focused around one large dose experience, while the latter was a series of smaller dose sessions used alongside psychotherapy. Bache developed his own methodology, which he refers to as "psychedelic exploration", and it consists of an extended series of high dose (500-600mcg) experiences. LSD and the Mind of the Universe’s structure reflects this. His 73 sessions are divided into twelve largely chronological sections, from "The Path of Temporary Immersion" through to "Final Vision" and "Coming off the Mountain". Taken together, the experiences chart an extraordinary exploratory arc, which shifts between the personal, the global and the cosmological.

Turning to theory, Bache’s experiences similarly reinforce elements of Grof’s work while developing others, and this negotiation can be traced through the book’s arc. The first chapter, for example, covers his opening 10 sessions and they "closely mirrored" the perinatal levels of consciousness (i.e. those associated with the birthing process) that were described by Grof. Bache’s visions, however, while initially rooted in the personal sphere, increasingly extend beyond, establishing a more extensive territory. Just as Aldous Huxley spoke of the far west of the Jungian archetype in The Doors of Perception (1956), so in places Bache notes that, "Here the individual dissolves into pre-existing fields of collective consciousness" (Bache 2019: 137). To an extent, psychological territories thus determine certain visionary qualities and their exploration.

Bache, however, frequently and decisively moves beyond the schema of Grof and Jung. He describes visionary circumstances in terms more wedded to fundamental social, ontological and cosmological questions. This is undoubtedly where the delights of this text lie, and where Bache is able to bring to bear a life steeped in both the academic and practical exploration of religion and spirituality. For example he writes:
Though these experiences were extraordinary in their own right, the most poignant part of today’s session was not the dimensions of the universe I was witnessing but what my seeing them meant to the Creative Consciousness I was with. It seemed so pleased to have someone to show Its work to (Bache 2019: 115)
His LSD experiences are described through a fascinating infusion of psychological sciences, particularly the transpersonal, and an underlying perennial philosophy that seeks to place his LSD visions in light of universal and cosmological questions. Therefore, while the reader might broadly be aware of this LSD experience narrative in regard to personal therapeutics, it is in its role as philosophical inquiry that is of novel value, particularly in relation to two of his major concerns: reincarnation and environmentalism.

What grounds the visionary aspects associated with the self and those of the universe in the text is the ontological process of his experiences, which is geared around his previous work on reincarnation. This allows Bache to discuss and shift between personal, global and universal observations without being restricted to personal anecdotes. He notes, "Reincarnation gives individual consciousness an open-ended amount of time in which to learn from its mistakes and develop its innate capacities" (Bache 2019: 91). This firmly places questions of the self within a universal paradigm. To do this, a similar process is utilized through extrapolating Grof’s perinatal observations by applying them to reincarnation as a temporally stretched process -- a "purification" that has universal implications for the Creative Consciousness, not simply the egoic self.

This process is driven by development of a "Diamond Soul". The Diamond, in its aspects of soul, energy, consciousness and luminosity, is the ontological device through which realization occurs over many lives. It is both an awakening and remembering. Crucially, this also allows for a perspective on the middle worlds of the global and social. As Bache states, "Integration is not just a psychological process; it is also a social process" (Bache 2019: 306). Thus quite personal LSD experiences underpin much larger processes:
The core vision of our future that has emerged in my sessions is that humanity is coming in a time of Great Awakening, a profound shift in the fundamental condition of the human psyche. But for there to be a Great Awakening, there must first take place a Great Death (Bache 2019: 209)
Understandably, one key lesson that his LSD experiences drive home is the awakening of an environmental consciousness. This is of course widely understood to currently be at a crucial moment. It has been one of the key cultural-historical forces that has emerged since the shift to social liberalization over the latter half of the twentieth century in the Western world, and Bache neatly encapsulates this in his work.

In many respects LSD and the Mind of the Universe: Diamonds from Heaven asks more questions than it answers, but this is perhaps a most apt reflection of LSD’s value. As the question of its personal, therapeutic value is increasingly settled, Bache’s ability to explore the visionary territory in light of social and environmental processes opens up a new vista of questions about where LSD lies in a hopeful global awakening. And as he makes plain, struggling to become one planet is the struggle to become one Soul.

And here is the exchange between Ken Ring and Chris Bache:

Are Deep Psychological Experiences Trustable?

Ken Ring and I have been friends for many years. Though we taught at different universities, our shared interest in non-ordinary states of consciousness led us to track each other’s work, exchange letters, and meet at conferences when we could. Ken is the co-founder and past president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and the founding editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies. When I taught near-death episode research in my courses, I always used Ken’s books, first Heading Toward Omega and later Lessons from the Light, and the students loved them. My senior by a decade, Ken helped launch my writing career by contributing the foreword to my book on reincarnation, Lifecycles. Along the way we’ve published side by side as we searched for answers to the puzzle of frightening near-death experiences.[1] Ken is a rare bird in academia, a combination of penetrating intellect, massive heart, and a bend-over-laughing sense of humor. He also has an uncanny ability to slip through the many layers of an issue and put his finger on the heart of a matter. 

So when Ken sent me his thoughts on my new book LSD and the Mind of the Universe, I received them with great anticipation. In them he raised some important questions about the ontological trustworthiness of deep psychedelic experience, and I responded. In the end, we thought our exchange might be useful to others interested in psychedelics, and so we share it here.

Dear Chris,

I have read many books on psychedelics, but yours was matchless for its depth, the beauty of its prose, its inspiring vision, and your sheer heroism in undertaking such a tremendous journey into the furthest reaches that a psychedelically-aided mind could penetrate, crossing one boundary after another until you passed beyond all boundaries where words themselves fail, just as Dante’s did. I don’t think anyone else has attempted to do what you have done and venture where you did with such incredible discipline and dedication and then to recount the journey with such stunning eloquence and spiritual insight.  

I spent the better part of a week with your book and, as I remember mentioning to you, I was forced to read parts of it when I was very tired or otherwise in some measure of physical discomfort. But it had me captivated and enthralled almost from the very beginning; and once I had got into it, I could not stay away from it. I pushed myself to finish it, not because my interest was flagging toward the end, but because I couldn’t wait to get there. As I told you in one of my early notes, as I was getting into your story, I found it very hard on my emotions because each journey was so intense and your writing so powerful that I often felt I was taking these journeys with you. And there was so much suffering in your accounts that I could barely stand to read them sometimes; it took a lot for me to stick with it. I needed to take breaks frequently, even as you were forced to do.

Because of the intensity of my experience in reading your book, and because of how I was feeling for much of my time with it, I didn’t take notes. I just underlined a lot and made some marginal notes as I went along. And of course during my reading and afterward, I thought a lot about your book and what it had brought up for me.

Now more than a week has passed, and I don’t want any more time to go by without my writing to you about it. Initially, I thought I would probably just write you a long letter; after that, I thought I would actually have to write a paper about your book; but what I finally decided to do is just to single out certain facets of your book that particularly interested me. Therefore, this will only be a very partial commentary. I want to raise some critical questions that I’m sure you must have thought about or that other readers will certainly raise. I will also remark briefly on some subsidiary matters that I was caused to wonder about.

Mainly, what I would like to address here are a couple of fundamental themes having to do with aspects of your death-rebirth process that have linkages to NDEs and your conjectures about the evolution of consciousness and the birth of a new humanity. But I’ll begin by tackling the trickiest and perhaps most sensitive matter of all – what Chris Bache brought to this journey that makes it possibly unique.
 
What came to me first was this thought: What if Chris had grown up in India as a scholar and serious meditator wedded to the Hindu tradition that understands history to involve a cyclical process rather than one ending with a glorious ascent into the eschaton? Would that Indian Chris have found himself partaking in a similar journey as the American Chris? I doubt it, don’t you? And if the Indian Chris would have found himself traveling through a very different universe-scape, what would that imply?   

Building on this thought, weren’t you uniquely gifted or suited to the task you undertook by virtue of your karma in your past lives, your pre-incarnation resolve about the purpose of your present incarnation, your professional work as a scholar and philosopher of religion, your spiritual practices in this life, especially your immersion in Vajrayana Buddhism, to become a psychedelically-inspired prophet of a new age?  I mean, all these qualities would serve to make you seemingly almost “destined” for this role. But by the same reasoning, if someone else equally intelligent but with a very different background than yours, had undergone 73 high dose LSD sessions over a 20 year period, would he or she have been able to experience what you did, and if not, what would that mean? This of course is just a variant of my first query.

I suppose what I am driving at is the problem that psychologists refer to when they talk about the limitations of the idiographic approach to truth or, more simply, the problems we have in the case of an n of one. You are unique – and unique in some very exceptional ways. So the basic question is an ontological one: Was your experience also unique to you or does it have broader ontological validity? How can we know – and does it matter? 

Let me take this thought a little further. We in the West have grown up with the Christian idea of an apocalypse or the second coming of Christ, or at least with some sort of idea that history will have a very happy ending, that it is actually guided by a kind of telos. That manner of thinking is in our cultural DNA. So one can only wonder how much did that implicit worldview have to do with the vision of humanity’s future that was vouchsafed to you during your psychedelic journeys.   

I’ve been influenced by the English philosopher, John Gray, who has long argued that we in the West are addicted to the myth of progress and that we are suckers for visions of an eventual heaven on earth scenario. I don’t know that Gray says this exactly, but it’s as if he wants to remind us of the follies of such thinking by pointing to the destructive fantasies of people like Marx and Hitler. And then there’s Isaiah Berlin, too, who has issued similar warnings about the impossibility of any kind of ideal world. Granted these guys didn’t take psychedelics and they presumably spent their entire lives imprisoned in the space-time world, but one has at least to take these views into account.

And then of course we have Darwin. If physical evolution is simply nature’s open-ended experiment with no end-state inherent in its evolutionary processes, why should we believe that the evolution of consciousness should inevitably lead to a new and supreme form of the human species? In the evolution of our own species, there was a time when we came very near to becoming extinct. Maybe the next time we won’t be so lucky. For my part, I don’t think the future is knowable. Who a few months ago could have predicted the onset of a world-changing pandemic like COVID-19?

When I wrote my book, Heading Toward Omega (1984), I had a very different view. I thought I knew where we were heading as a species – toward the kind of evolution suggested by Teilhard de Chardin’s Omega Point. Then I was aligned with your views, as you propounded them in your book. In mine at that time I argued that NDEs and other transcendent experiences were going to function as catalysts for the evolution of consciousness, and speculated, as you have, about human beings becoming a new species. I even adopted John White’s term for the new human, which he called “Homo noeticus.” (Given the state of my own current decrepitude, I consider myself a member of the species, “Homo patheticus.”) But eventually I grew doubtful about my earlier roseate optimism since the world simply continued on its benighted way, with seemingly increasing mayhem and endless wars while NDEs became only a cultural oddity lost in a welter of passing distractions that are now represented by the habits of our smart phone generation. That’s entertainment!   

Well, you might argue, as you seem to in your book, that one must take the long view. Perhaps. On the other hand, I am more persuaded by the cogency of a phrase I just came across the other day: teleology is the moralizing of chronology.  

This is not to gainsay your hard-won experiences that have gone so far beyond my own that I should really be debarred from hazarding any comments on them. They were what they were, and I’m sure you have reported them as accurately as anyone could do, as much as words would allow. In any event, neither of us will live long enough, at least in this incarnation, to know whether your vision of the future of the human species and life on earth will prove prophetic.

Let’s probe this further, however, from still another angle. I know you know that when I was still researching NDEs, I came across and interviewed a number of NDErs who reported what I called in my book, Heading Toward Omega, prophetic visions (or PVs). Since you will be familiar with these PVs, you know that generally speaking they foresaw widespread global ecological catastrophe in which many people would die, but this would only be a very painful transitional period before the dawning of a new age of human brotherhood and a veritable “heaven on earth.” I came across or interviewed most of these people in the early 1980s, and most of them felt that these ecological calamities were imminent; the most commonly mentioned year was 1988. That year, in fact, did prove to have more than its share of such disasters, but what we now remember about that year is mainly that it was then that climate scientist James Hansen first warned us about the coming climate crisis, which we then thought of as “global warming”  or "the greenhouse effect."

Although you don’t draw on this research, you have obviously come to the same conclusion as to what the short-term future portends, as you remark in some very eloquent and emotionally stirring passages on pages 208-209 in your book. After enumerating all the dreadful ecological disasters that doubtless will befall and befoul the earth in the decades to come, you assert:
The core vision of our future that has emerged in my sessions is that humanity is coming into a time of Great Awakening, a profound shift in the fundamental condition of the human psyche.   But for there to be a Great Awakening, there must first be a Great Death….I have come to believe the twenty-first century will be such a time….But through this hard labor, we will give birth to something extraordinary.  More than just a new civilization, what is emerging is nothing less than a new order of human being.  I believe that through the global system crisis, our planet is giving birth to the Future Human.
Yes, that’s what I thought, too. But let’s now consider some of the reasons for my present dubiety.  

First, as you know, the term, “Great Awakening” is a staple phrase in the history of religious movements in America. We have had a succession of them in America going back to the eighteenth century. And not just in America, of course. History is strewn with the failed predictions of prophets and seers about the coming of a new age.  And we know from history that such prophecies often occur during times of cultural crisis, as with the rise of the Ghost Dance religion in American in the 1890s or with Black Elk’s famous vision, which he had when he was nine years old. As the late psychiatrist, John Perry, wrote about such movements in his book, The Heart of History:
The horrific vision of world destruction is part and parcel of the mythic imagery of rapid cultural change and world views in transition….Beholding the world coming to its end amid storm, earthquake, flood and fire, we have found to be a typical experience of a prophet whose psyche is registering the emotional impact of the end of an era.  The ensuing world regeneration is then the picture of the ushering in of a new age, meaning by this an innovative cultural effort whose configuration is outlined in a fresh myth….This pattern of transformation is basic to… revitalization movements throughout history.
And of course, as I’ve mentioned, these same visions have been reported not only by native Americans in the past but by any number modern NDErs I or other researchers have interviewed. And even by NDErs from long ago. Some years ago, for example, I was provided with another one of these classic global death-and-rebirth scenarios that occurred during the NDE of a man -– which he had had in 1892!

So from this perspective, perhaps what you have encountered during your psychedelic visions is really a deeply embedded archetype in the collective psyche of the West, which is generating its own images of death and regeneration for which the sensitive souls of our time – or those like you who have been privileged to plunge into its depths by means of psychedelics – serve as carriers.  

None of these conjectures of course question your experiences as such. There is no question about what you saw and were given to understand. The only question I am raising has to do with the interpretation of these experiences and images. Do they actually portend the future or are they soundings and sights from the deep unconscious that reflect the parlous times in which we now find ourselves?  

Of course, I agree with you about all the imminent global disasters you cite that lie in store during the coming century – especially from accelerating climate change. The world we or our children face is truly terrifying. But why should we believe that out of the ashes, a phoenix of civilizational rebirth will occur with such a glorious outcome as you foresee? Perhaps we are not destined for greatness but doomed to an ignominious end. Which is really more likely? And how can we know?

There was another theme in your book that runs through it like a leitmotif in a Wagner opera, and it is still another facet of your experiences that also had a special resonance with mine on NDEs. That of course is your recurrent emphasis, also found in Grof, on the death-and-rebirth dynamic. Indeed, throughout your book there were many unmistakable parallels with NDE research and with NDEs themselves. All NDEs entail a death-and rebirth motif, and many of them likewise involve an encounter with an all-loving light, which you encountered – and then some! – in so many of your deep journeys. NDErs also come back with the same insights as you did about the nature of universe – that it is stitched in a fabric of luminous, living LOVE, an unimaginable love beyond limit. Granted that you died and were reborn many times and experienced death-and-rebirth in a number of different ways, as you indicate in your appendix, but NDErs touch the same domain at least once. They also come back to their bodies with a longing to return “home,” as you did as you so poignantly and movingly describe in your final chapter when speaking of your yearning to remain with the Beloved.  

I don’t by any means intend to “reduce” your experiences to a prototypical NDE, even multiplied by a million, but in your book you clearly manifest many of the characteristics and values of NDErs as well as their worldview. And your reference to Jung at various points to illustrate the depression that can ensue following an NDE and the sense that this world of time and space is not our real home, or is even ultimately “real” at all, clearly suggests that you were using him to represent aspects of your own experiences.

This leads naturally to your last chapter, which you may remember you had shared with me earlier. I still found it sad because in it you make clear just how much it cost you – physically and psychologically – to travel this course, alone, for so many years, without being able to discuss it with anyone other than your former wife, Carol. And then to have to leave that realm until your death. There I think you suffered far more than most NDErs because of how deeply you knew that world and how unbearable it was to you not to be able to remain there. My heart again went out to you when I re-read that chapter, especially this time after having completed your book.

I don’t remember where it occurred, but I recall that you indicated in that chapter that you were “waiting to die.” Of course, I used that same phrase facetiously as the title of my recent book [2] and for my essays, but when you used it, it was no joking matter! I’m relieved to know from your recent notes that you no longer feel that way.

Chris, there are lots of other things I could have written about here, but I don’t want to go on forever. But one question kept plaguing me in reading your book, and that was your use of the music you chose to drive and amplify your experiences. I was not familiar with any of the music you mentioned, but a lot of it seemed as if it may in itself have caused your experience to take an extreme or violent emotional turn because of how music can often intensify psychedelic journeys. I haven’t used LSD nearly so often as you have – not even close! – but in my early days when I was very influenced by Grof, I also followed a similar protocol with eye shades, music, etc., and I know how much the music I chose affected me. I just wonder how your experiences might have differed if you had not used music, and what that would mean. Still another unanswerable question, I suppose.

Finally, I want to thank you for giving me one of my most treasured experiences in reading any book during the first two decades of this century. Despite my raising some questions about the interpretation and meaning your experiences, I was enthralled to read about them, forced to think so much about what you wrote, and, unbelievably, found that my admiration, respect and love for you, which I had assumed could not be greater, had reached a new apogee. 

Ken

*****
Dear Ken,

I’ve held your thoughts on my book for a month now, and it’s time to respond. I’ve loosely organized what I want to say, and while my tendency is to edit something to death, I’m going to just jump in and let my thoughts take their own course.

First, many thanks for your deep engagement with my book and for your many kind assessments. I spent all those years trying to empty my ego and here you come pumping it up again. Fortunately, at our age we’re both beyond delusions of grandeur. Thank you, too, for pushing me to address the critical question: Do my psychedelic experiences have ontological validity? This is the same question Geoff Ward asked in his review of my book, though he was triggered by a different issue. [3] For him it was my apparent endorsement of redemptive suffering. For you it is the predicted death and rebirth of humanity. Both of you raise good reasons for your doubts. 

Your questions: 
  • Do my experiences reflect my academic training? My karmic propensities.
  • Would a different person with a different cultural background who followed the same protocol have the same experiences?
  • Are my visions of the birth of the future human encounters with an archetypal idea or current in the collective unconscious?
  • Might the intense music I used in my sessions have itself caused my experiences to take an extreme or violent emotional turn?
Let me begin by saying you are absolutely right to point to the strong correspondence between near-death experiences and my LSD experiences. I have always felt a deep kinship with NDErs for this reason. My sense is that we are both plowing the same field. It was because of this felt kinship that I was moved by your discussion of prophetic visions in Heading Toward Omega. I had only done 17 sessions by then and was still 6 years away from my own first vision of humanity’s evolutionary trajectory, but I paid attention. I was open to the possibility of what they were reporting, but I was also deeply suspicious of trying to pin it down to a specific date. Like you, I knew the long history of failed messianic expectations, one after another after another. I also had a gut instinct that any pivot this large would not be driven by external events only, like a series of earthquakes or a magnetic pole shift. My instinct was that a true evolutionary pivot would be driven by internal forces. So I was open to their story but with reservations. And like you, I watched as their forecasts failed to materialize. Lots of lessons here.

When I first wrote about the death and rebirth of humanity in Dark Night, Early Dawn (2000), you may recall my strong reluctance to do so.
This is a chapter I have not wanted to write. I’ve resisted it strenuously, postponing its beginning many times….I fear asking my reader to follow me beyond what even a liberally inclined audience can tolerate in good conscience. There is so much irresponsible apocalyptic hype in print as we approach the next millennium, or what many consider the even more fateful year 2012, that this is an area from which I would have preferred to keep some distance. 
There I brought in the work of the philosopher Michael Grosso who explored these widespread visions of death and rebirth in his books The Final Choice and The Millennium Myth. Also Duane Elgin and Peter Russell. And then there was you.
Ken Ring, it will be remembered, demonstrated in Heading Toward Omega that many persons who experienced unusually deep NDEs have had visions of the imminent death and rebirth of industrial civilization. These visions are generally consistent with one another, even though the persons involved had no knowledge of each other. In them, various geological catastrophes and global disruptions signal the complete collapse of life as we know it, to be followed by the spiritual rebirth of our species and an era of unprecedented global integration. 
You opted for a non-literal reading of those visions – wisely I thought – preferring to see them as “a measure of the dramatic spiritual turning point humanity has come to.” By this time, 1988 had come and gone so we knew the non-literal reading was correct, but was the dramatic spiritual turning point itself a visionary illusion? At this point, my psychedelic experiences were saying it wasn’t.

Let’s start with that Indian Chris. Different background, different cultural assumptions. Would he see the same things that I saw if he used the same protocol?  I want to say both Yes and No. First, the No. He would not have the same experiences that I had, at least in the early stages. LSD amplifies our awareness. Because our histories would have planted different experiences in our unconscious, our psychedelic experiences would be different. But again, this is only in the beginning. Clipping a segment from my response to Geoff Ward:
…drawing on Jorge Ferrer’s insights in Revisioning Transpersonal Theory, I hold that all visionary experience is participatory. That is, our being evokes in complex ways the portion of the universe we experience in these states. But the corollary of the participatory view is this: the more conditioning we have let go of when this communion takes place, the more open-ended and far-reaching are the experiences that can arise. Our historical conditioning is the starting point of this conversation, not its end point. From chapter one [of LSD and the Mind of the Universe]:
“As I have experienced it, consciousness is an infinite ocean of experiential possibilities. When we take these amplifying medicines, the mind we drop into this ocean acts as a seed crystal that catalyzes a certain set of experiences from its infinite potential. As we are gradually healed, purified, and transformed by these encounters, the seed crystal of our mind is changed. In subsequent sessions, it catalyzes still deeper experiences from this ocean. If we repeat this process many times in a sustained fashion, a sequence of initiations into successively deeper levels of consciousness takes place, and a deepening visionary communion unfolds.” [4]
Initially, I think Indian Chris’ experiences would be different. But if he continued to press on, if he allowed the shell of his mind with all its cultural conditioning to be shattered and ground to dust again and again, then I think, Yes, his experiences would begin overlap with mine in significant ways. Working with thousands of people in non-ordinary states of consciousness, Stan Grof has found that our individual historical conditioning does not ultimately limit or define the range of our psychedelic experiences. This has been my experience as well. What we bring to the encounter certainly influences what arises there, especially in the beginning, but as our experience deepens, we enter the common ground of the universe itself, known from different perspectives and through different lenses, to be sure, but recognizable as common ground.

Though depth psychology has taught us to think the cavern of our personal mind is endless, it really isn’t. Nor is the collective unconscious. Reaching beyond both is just as possible as breaking free of the gravity of earth. It takes special conditions, but it is possible. That’s my experience, at least. When after years of work I eventually transcended the species mind and with it the stories that humanity has been telling itself for millennia, my consciousness opened into an extraordinary field of clarity in which all these stories simply fell away. 

But how do we know this is true? How do we know that we haven’t simply wandered into a deep canyon of the collective psyche? I can’t give you a compelling intellectual argument for this one. At this point I, I have only an argument from experience, and we both know how tricky that slope can be. Even so, just as those who nearly die physically speak with complete conviction and consistency of the Light they entered and the Love they received, as you have beautifully documented, I who have died psychologically many times speak of the Mind beyond our historically conditioned mind and what opens there, a Mind that anyone can experience if they go deeply enough.

Other considerations. As I said to Geoff, the pattern in my sessions was that my professional training and personal expectations were repeatedly shattered and reworked. It was very helpful to have the teachings of the world’s spiritual masters to help me understand some of the things I was experiencing; it was also helpful to see the parallels with various breakthroughs in 20th century science. But the sessions took me beyond both these traditions many times. So much surfaced in my sessions that was not part of these lineages. The experience of Deep Time, for example, in which past, present, and future over a defined range of years were simultaneously present. Or being taken deep into the future to experience the archetypal form of the Future Human that is emerging on Earth. Or experiencing the inscrutable denizens of archetypal reality and the intricate details of the unified body-mind of our species. None of these possibilities were hinted at in my training. In the end, I think the repeated novelty of my journey is evidence that large segments of my cultural conditioning were transcended there.

“For my part, I don’t think the future is knowable.” I understand, I really do. I’ve thought about this a lot. And though you probably don’t mean it in this way, technically this may be true, even in my world. In Heading Toward Omega, you described NDErs who were able to change what they had seen in their personal life preview. If so, what were they actually seeing in their life preview? You spoke of them seeing a “conditional future” — without awareness, a future with a high probability of becoming reality, but with awareness, a future that could be changed.

In this respect, I agree with you that “the future” is unknowable because life is open-ended and subject to change. The future is not something that is “out there,” something we can reach out and touch like an apple on a table. It is a self-emerging dance with an uncountable number of variables. And yet, these variables have a momentum and a trajectory. There is so much momentum behind the forces of history and our deeply entrenched cultural patterns that perhaps I was seeing was not the future but a probable future. Perhaps I was tuning into the open-ended flow of historical currents, and yet currents that at this point in time have a high degree of inevitability. Perhaps like the NDErs who changed their future, humanity can change the future that I saw if enough of us were to suddenly wake up to the crisis we are facing and radically change our behavior. I hope we do. I would love for my vision of our future collapse to be wrong.

“But why should we believe that out of the ashes, a phoenix of civilizational rebirth will occur with such a glorious outcome as you foresee? Perhaps we are not destined for greatness but doomed to an ignominious end. Which is really more likely? And how can we know?” If we stay within the data available inside space-time, I think we probably can’t know this. In her evolutionary drive, nature wipes out stars, planets, and species with apparent indifference. Why not us?

It’s certainly tricky to trust “data” that comes from non-ordinary states of consciousness. What a swamp our minds can be; the collective psyche even more so. But experience is all I have to offer here. I see and understand your warnings about the myth of progress and the deeply entrenched apocalyptic expectations that run through our history, but I would tell you that I’ve never been attracted to these ideas. They simply don’t move me or persuade me. A lifetime of teaching courses on world religions has given me a cross-cultural perspective that lies far beyond all of these belief systems and their predictions.

Above all, it may be the distinctive nature of the experiences themselves that carries the greatest epistemic import here. Apocalyptic expectations burn up at these fiery depths, along with other limitations of our cultural history and even of physical reality. When you go deep like your core-NDErs did, when you drop repeatedly into coherent levels of visionary experience, when the lessons that emerge there are breathtakingly clear and consistent, and when the knowing carries you into transcendent ecstasy and back, I can’t help but believe that there is something trustworthy here. And having experienced archetypal reality and the collective psyche many times, I can only report that the experience of the death and rebirth of humanity is not an archetypal constellation. It is different from this. Experientially, it is a knowing that grows sharper as one moves beyond the boundaries of the collective psyche.

I think it was heroic of you to present the prophetic visions of NDErs to the world in Heading Toward Omega, and I think you did so with critical distance. It’s too early to say whether the collective transformation they saw coming was itself wrong, even though the date surely was. I’m not taking refuge from failed predictions in the empty promise of more time. I’m simply observing that the arc of the historical processes I saw in my sessions was huge. My visions did not come with dates or details, only broad strokes. A global eco-crisis (or series of crises) generating a global systems crisis generating an evolutionary turning point. If there is one advantage the psychedelic visionary has over the NDE visionary, it is repetition. With repeated entry, glimpses are systematically unfolded into deep vistas of understanding.

My last defense is that my experiences in this arena are not unique to me. Many psychedelic journeyers have seen the general outlines of what I saw. This cuts both ways, I know, supporting both our positions, but I cite it nonetheless. Many journeyers from widely varying backgrounds have seen a transformational crisis building in history. They have seen humanity entering a “before and after” event. Many indigenous cultures are reporting parallel visions. The contemplative Bede Griffiths, whom I quoted in Chapter 9, has seen a similar process unfolding in this century. Are they all just tapping into myths lodged in the collective psyche? Personally, I don’t think so, but here I must let the issue rest.

Music. Yes, intense music triggers intense responses — “it may in itself have caused your experience to take an extreme or violent emotional turn because of how music can often intensify psychedelic journeys.” You’re right that music influences our psychedelic experience, but perhaps not exactly in the way you propose. In my experience, it is not so much that strong music pushes you in its direction, but it can help loosen the ties that bind us to our customary and fixed patterns of thinking and feeling. I used many different types of music in my sessions and found that intense music shook up my body-mind system more than gentle music. By rattling my earthbound cage, it helped me surrender to currents that were rising underneath me, taking me apart and drawing me into the deeper waters of the psyche.

I understand that for the unprepared, hard music can be traumatic. It can mobilize powerful experiences that rise from your depths, and if you’re not prepared for these experiences, you’re in for a bad afternoon. But I’ve found that engaging these difficult experiences is the key that liberates you into deeper orders of reality — ecstatic orders, information-rich orders. One of the interesting things that happens in a session is that when particularly unpleasant music takes you through a breaking point into ecstatic reality, the music becomes exquisitely beautiful to you. Its harshness helps break us out of our prison, and it is as though that release sanctifies everything. As a result, I can today listen to even the hardest music used in my sessions with calm contentment.

As I explained in the diamond luminosity chapter, death became my closest ally in this work. Death — complete loss of control, complete immersion in what frightens you the most. “What had begun in the early sessions as confronting my shadow morphed into a discipline of actively embracing death in whatever form it presented itself. Far from being something to be feared, death became something I sought out, repeatedly plunging myself into its purifying fire.” And for this, intense music is wonderful.

After my main journey ended in 1999, I continued to do light session work from time to time using LSD and other substances, though now hardly at all. (I find that my system is almost allergic to LSD, having been pushed so far with it, and I don’t use it anymore.) In these sessions I’ve used gentler music and often no music at all, because I was not trying to break into new territory. Once you have broken through so many barriers, your mind lives in a spacious landscape. You can tap into this landscape and continue to learn from it without challenging your limits further. But if I did want to challenge my limits, if I wanted to go deeper than I had gone before, I would strap on the fierce music again and ride it as far as it would take me. That fierceness is my friend.

OK, enough. I’ve checked my misspellings but my mis-thoughts will have to stand as they are. I love talking with you, Ken, and I look forward to when we can sit down in person together.

Chris

Notes



[3]  Medium, November 18, 2019.

[4]  Medium, January 16, 2020.

Authors

Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Connecticut (though he currently resides in northern California). He is the co-founder and past President of the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS), founder and original editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies, and the author of five books on the subject of near-death experiences, including Heading Toward Omega, Mindsight: Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind and Lessons from the Light. For many years, he lectured internationally on his NDE research and related topics and has appeared on many radio and television programs in connection with his work. He has also had a long-standing interest in psychedelic experiences and research.

Christopher M. Bache, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus in Philosophy and Religious Studies at Youngstown State University where he taught for 33 years. He is also adjunct faculty at the California Institute of Integral Studies, Emeritus Fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and on the Advisory Council of Grof Legacy Training. An award winning teacher and international speaker, Chris has written four books: Lifecycles — a study of reincarnation in light of contemporary consciousness research; Dark Night, Early Dawn — a pioneering work in psychedelic philosophy and collective consciousness; The Living Classroom, an exploration of teaching and collective fields of consciousness; and LSD and the Mind of the Universe, the story of his 20 year journey with LSD.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing the most intriguing and stimulating dialog! I'm so glad both of you are here on this planet to help inspired me in my sacred explorations.

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  2. I wholeheartedly second Fred's comment. This was one of the most stimulating and heartening things I've read all year. Thank you so much.

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