The Stan Grof Incident
The older I get and the more I ponder human life and the larger system of Nature that evoked and sculpted human life, the more I see how woven together everything is. The phenomenon of synchronicity is a striking example of this interconnectedness. Usually synchronicity is thought of as a highly meaningful coincidence between a psychological event and some external happening. Say you are reading a book about unicorns and then a leaflet comes through your letterbox announcing the opening of a Unicorn Restaurant just down the road. That would constitute a typical synchronicity. But I suspect that this kind of curious interconnectedness runs deeper and wider, and that cultural events, people's lives, the web of life, and even cosmic processes can behave in synchronistic ways.
This would mean that synchronicity was an expression of the way the reality process flows, demonstrating that various self-organizing currents interweave and penetrate one another in creatively meaningful ways. In any case, I have had my own fair share of synchronicities, both mild and extra strong (I chronicled some here.)
The Stan Grof incident concerns a particularly striking synchronicity as well as a significant dream -- both of which would assuredly have impressed Jung (who coined the term 'synchronicity').
Stan Grof is an esteemed psychiatrist who did pioneering therapeutic work with psychedelics back in the 1960s and who went on to write numerous books about consciousness and spirituality. I met him via profound synchronistic circumstances in 1988. Back then I was a cashier at Dillons Bookstore in Bloomsbury, London. This was a massive book shop, perhaps the biggest in London at that time. At the time in question I was also reading Grof's book Realms of the Human Unconscious. I recall this book very well as it had striking artwork on the cover. Now, bear in mind that in 1988 there was no Internet -- so I did not know what Grof looked like.
Anyhow, this tall elegant chap came up to my till and paid for a big stack of books, one of which was a hardback about fractals that sported a dazzling cover featuring the Mandelbrot Set. Fractals were just becoming popular then, so it was normal to rave over how beautiful and psychedelic they looked. Anyhow, this chap had this large stack of books and he handed me his credit card which, in those far off days of yore, you had to manually pass through a machine in order to get the banking details. And lo and behold I eyeballed Stan Grof's name on the card, the very author of the book I was then reading!
Needless to say, I told Grof of this extraordinary synchronicity, that I was currently reading one of his works. As he paid for his stack of books, he looked at me with a wry glint in his eye. I, at least, thought it was an amazing occurrence, even more so because Realms of the Human Unconscious alludes to profound goings on. But it seemed to be a one off event. Then, a few years later, I had an early mystical experience under the influence of psilocybin mushrooms and recall that I penned a hand written letter to Grof, reminding him of the bookstore synchronicity and telling him about my psilocybin experience. As I never received a reply, I basically forgot about trying to contact him.
In April of 2012 I finally got to meet Grof a second time. I attended the 11th Annual International Bioethics forum which took place in Madison, Wisconsin. This year's forum was about the near death experience (NDEs) and also the use of psilocybin to treat those with end-stage cancer. There was a private dinner on the evening prior to the forum proper and after the meal someone brought Grof over to where I was seated. We shook hands and I was able to remind him of our remarkable synchronistic encounter 24 years earlier. Unfortunately he could not remember it (well, he is over 80 now and the event would not have been as significant to him as it was to me), but it was a pleasure to meet him again anyway.
The next night, I had a profound dream that involved Grof. To be sure about it, it was one of the most vivid symbolic dreams I have ever had and I can still see it clearly in my mind's eye. Grof was standing on some tropical coast, with a blue ocean behind him. There was blue sky and some palm trees. In the bright sunlight, the leaves of the palm trees were silhouetted on the ground and formed distinct shadows. Grof began to draw around those leaf shadows with a black marker pen. He drew one long constant outline. This outline then turned into a map, or rather a path on a map, like a path on a treasure map. Then this path on a map transformed into an actual three-dimensional path presented (via a sideways angle) in front of me. The path started to acquire masonry and brickwork and it went on an incline from left to right before me. Then it acquired steps. My gaze naturally went along to the end of the steps. What was there? What treasure lay at the very pinnacle of the path? Well, all I can recall is that it was reminiscent of an ancient Mayan symbol or similar. There was a wing element too, like a long eagle's wing, but upright and not horizontal, like the eagle wings you find on Assyrian statues and such.
The next day, during a break in the forum, I saw Grof passing and excitedly told him about the potent symbolic dream. He listened carefully and then thanked me -- which seemed strange as I did not really know whether the dream was for him or for me. In any case, the dream actually served to help me formulate some new ideas about the tutorial nature of the unconscious, in a way that could link together the symbology found in NDEs with psychedelic symbology. Basically, the dream seemed to suggest that one could trace the unconscious through its 'shadows' and thence be led to some great thing, or treasure, and that there is, in essence, a direction to the manifestations of the unconscious should we be able to commune with it.
Whatever the case, the synchronicity with Grof, and the symbolic dream about him, seem more than chance. Methinks we are all component parts of some self-organizing wisdom whose movements and machinations are subtle and likely overlooked by the modern Western psyche. In other words, I suspect that everything really is interconnected, although in ways that are deeper than we may be capable of imagining.
Image by lia, courtesy of Creative Commons license.