by Julien Devereux, Ph.D., LCSW, LCDC
Edited and posted by Alysson Troffer, The Inner Door Editor, InnerDoor (at) ahbi.org
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the May 2008 issue of The Inner Door. Julien is a practitioner and trainer of Integrative Breathwork. Although some of his opinions might not reflect the principles of Holotropic Breathwork, we wanted to offer you this insightful view of integration.]
I recently read Paul Drummond’s biography Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, The Pioneers of Psychedelic Sound. It describes the story of one of the earliest truly acid rock bands from the Sixties, The 13th Floor Elevators. The name implies a mode of travel, an elevator, that goes to a place most people won’t or can’t go, the 13th Floor. I have a personal connection to this band because my brother was a roommate of band member Tommy Hall at the beginning of the psychedelic era. We were talking about those days and he said, “We were just college kids, and those psychedelic experiences opened up places in us for which we had no frame of reference.” Though different from drug-induced states, breathwork also opens places in us for which we often have no frame of reference (or they “blow our minds,” to use a Sixties phrase), which means breathwork rattles our worldview and stretches our limited version of reality. The challenge we all face when exploring the deep unknown inner space is the remarkable diversity of experiences and new ways of knowing.
My fascination with these mind-blowing experiences has led me to serious study of the varieties of religious, spiritual, and transpersonal experiences we humans can have. The most interesting aspects for me are the transformations that can occur following these experiences. The Alcoholics Anonymous literature discusses transformation in this way: “When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe (italics mine) that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone.”
What makes the experience significant is the change in doing, feeling, and believing that follows it. I believe that in breathwork, as in all spiritual explorations, the experiencer has to make some meaning from the experience, or it is just another sensual experience with no real grounding in the person’s life and thus fades quickly. I have had breathwork experiences that were interesting, but not transformative, because I never discovered or assigned any specific meaning to the experience, much like a dream that is entertaining or scary, but the dreamer can’t make sense of it. This “meaning-making” is fundamental to integration.
Victor Frankl states that man’s search for meaning is not simply a higher order principle of self-actualization but essential for survival. In Proverbs, the verse “Where there is no vision, the people perish” can be applied to individuals as well. Those of us doing breathwork are seekers, or we wouldn’t be at a breathwork session. In this article, I’d like to offer a model of what we find when we seek through breathwork, as well as a framework for discovering the meaning of what we experience.
New Ways of Knowing
The most often reported experience in my facilitation of breathwork groups is that of new ways of knowing. Breathers have an embodied or disembodied experience of knowing something in an entirely different way than ever before: They become aware that they inhabit a body of a different species; they experience themselves as a human person at the exact moment that they experience themselves as a spiritual being; they see their body below them while they project into some type of astral travel; they experience a deeply spiritual or religious sacredness in spite of no formal training; they interact with a significant archetype that they have never even thought of before.
One of my personal experiences of a new way of knowing was the healing of body shame around my weight that I had carried for most of my life. During a breathwork, I remembered a simple fact I had heard that there are six trillion cells in the human body. At that exact moment, a deep green glow illuminated all six trillion cells in my body, and I began to experience the draining of this body shame that had been part of my identity for many years. Over the next two years, I got into a recovery process around overeating and lost 75 pounds and have kept it off for two years. I believe this healing began during that breathwork, and the rest of my recovery process was the integration of that vision of healing into my physical body. Manifesting that vision was not instantaneous, but the vision was what pulled me forward into my healing.
Julien Devereux, Ph.D., LCSW, LCDC, is a consultant and coach in clinical practice, organizational development, and program management. A certified facilitator of Satyana Institute’s Gender Reconciliation program, he serves on the senior staff at Eupsychia Institute in Austin, Texas, where he leads training programs in Integrative Breathwork. He completed his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco in Human and Organizational Transformation.
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