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.]
Transpersonal perspectives offer an expanded view of the breathwork experience, allowing for interpretations outside the realm of traditional rational approaches to the human experience. Jungian concepts of dreamwork in which the dreamer is all parts of the dream are useful in understanding that everything about the breathwork experience is already within the psyche of the breather and is not something to fear but to understand. Identifying subpersonalities based on the work of Roberto Assagioli or Jacquelyn Small can help breathers embrace those aspects of themselves that are in shadow and need further integration. Creative visualization can allow a more intentional exploration of the symbolic and archetypal images that spontaneously emerged in the breathwork.
Less traditional tools for meaning-making such as Tarot cards or other mystery tradition oracles can provide clues to identify with images in the mandala or those experienced in the breathwork. Using indigenous and traditional definitions of archetypes and images (for example, animals, numbers, symbols, and shapes) to help discover an aspect of the self or the experience can also be a useful integration tool. After my most recent breathwork, I bought a book on the Enneagram. The section about the Type 1 profile stated that Michael, the Archangel, was the patron saint of Type 1’s. This was helpful in my identification with that profile.
Joining or creating a community of fellow travelers on the path is essential to healthy integration and can provide support between breathwork sessions. Breathers can search for an online group or form a local study group around books that address these experiences. Jacquelyn Small’s The Sacred Purpose of Being Human is one such book. In my experience, one of the most important aspects of spiritual growth is the deep understanding that we are not separate. Leaving a deeply moving breathwork session can lead to a feeling of isolation and abandonment that vanishes when a connection is made with someone at the workshop or with someone who is familiar with breathwork or has a transpersonal perspective.
How Facilitators Can Help
Facilitators have a responsibility to help breathers find their grounding without repressing or discounting their experiences. This responsibility includes offering basic guidance about reentry, such as how to share the experience with others. Breathers should share their experience cautiously with those who have not experienced breathwork. Sharing the surface highlights will be enough for most; those who want more detail will ask. Facilitators are also responsible for discussing how after breathwork, ordinary consciousness is no longer ordinary, nor does it ever snap back into its original container, and that integration allows the breather to capture this larger consciousness as a permanent part of normal waking consciousness. As such, integration is part of the larger process of spiritual growth and awakening.
Breathwork is a safe and simple way to trigger experiences of non-ordinary consciousness that open us to psychic depths and spiritual understanding. Exactly because of the power of these experiences, it is sometimes difficult for individuals, despite the best support offered, to return to their daily consciousness or emotional state before it is time to go home. Sometimes, breathers want to remain in contact with an experience of unity or bliss, and are just not ready to settle down to the ordinary within the time limit of the session. Or, at other times, long-suppressed grief or sadness might have come into awareness, and the individual needs more time to work through the emotion in a complete way than the session’s schedule provides.
Of course, each participant must take responsibility for his or her personal safety after leaving a workshop; however, a facilitator might be able to take steps toward helping to ensure that those still in a non-ordinary state return home safely. In addition, a follow-up phone call by the facilitator might be in order to check how the individual is doing (if making such a call has been agreed between them), or a follow-up group several days later can be offered. If and when it is appropriate, a facilitator might suggest to a breather who is having a difficult time integrating material from a session, or who wants to continue working on a particular theme, to locate a therapist who has a transpersonal perspective or to discuss the breathwork experience with his or her current therapist. The facilitator can also make it clear that he or she is always ready to speak with an individual’s therapist, either before or after a breathwork session, to clarify any questions.
Broader and Deeper, Not Just Higher
The process of integration allows us to build on our growth experiences and move them out of the realm of “getting high” experiences, which are isolated attempts to escape reality rather than genuine attempts to open to a broader and deeper human experience of reality. Merely “getting high” was how the psychedelic experiences of an earlier era became distorted into simple escape from reality. Escaping delayed our larger consciousness movement as a culture toward recognizing how big we can be in our own lives by waking up aspects of ourselves that are stifled. Our overvaluing the rational, material aspects of being while ignoring the bigger, mysterious aspects keeps us spiritually asleep. These aspects, when explored through breathwork, can become more and more real as we identify with them and incorporate the spiritual in our daily lives and recognize the divine purpose that we have come here to manifest in human form.
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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