Dark Night, Early Dawn
Steps to a Deep Ecology of Mind
Christopher M. Bache
State University of New York, 2,000
Opening Comments by Myron Stolaroff
I find Dark Night, Early Dawn, the most powerful book I have ever read. I am a consummate admirer of Ken Wilber, and greatly admire his integral approach. He has done the most complete job of which I am aware in integrating the vast knowledge of human development, incorporating many disciplines, branches of science, spiritual practices, and many other forms of knowledge. That is until Dark Night, Early Dawn, which incorporates bodies of knowledge and research not addressed by Wilber. A good deal of Bache's presentation is much closer to my heart, such as the powerful contribution of the intelligent use of psychedelic substances.
As I read this book, I found many areas that were quite frightening to me. It directly confronted me with the knowledge that despite my feelings of accomplishment in many areas of the psychedelic world, I have not yet faced the most important step of all. This step Bache clearly points out is the necessity of encountering and passing through the Dark Night of the Soul. This is the final barrier that the great mystics report must be transcended to finally reach complete Union with God. It requires a complete death of the Ego. As I read, I trembled with the realization that despite the many dark areas I have encountered and dealt with in my life, I had not really made this transition. Simply contemplating it was unsettling. I feel that passing this barrier requires a much more profound deepening of intention than I have exhibited in the past.
I believe that those who will gain the most from reading this book are those who are committed to their ultimate personal development, to the full realization of Enlightenment as defined by the Buddha. Such persons will find a wealth of information in this book to help them on their path. If like me, people find areas that seem foreboding, such as Bache's complete willingness to excruciatingly experience in depth the profound suffering of humans everywhere, they may take heart in Bache's extensive documentation of hope and fulfillment which certainly calls us forth.
The Buddhists claim that we cannot achieve enlightenment without committing ourselves to the happiness and welfare of all sentient beings. Our psychedelic experiences confirm the accuracy of this claim, for if we reach far enough in our experience, we find that we are all One. Your pain and suffering is my pain and suffering. As your progress and joy are also mine. A further incentive for us to commit ourselves to enlightenment is to look at some of the evidence Bache presents concerning the future. It is very clear from some of the contents of this book, which is completely supported by the writings of many other wise, highly developed persons and researchers examining the facts, that the future of civilization as we know it is doomed if we stay on our present course. This situation arises from the fact that essentially we are raping our planet without considering the welfare of all the occupants of the planet, and so far are doing nothing to prevent disaster from occurring. A quote from page 233: "Our best environmental estimates are that current industrial and social trends are driving humanity toward a devastating ecological and economic collapse that will take place probably within the next several decades."
Most experts, as well as Bache, claim that we cannot stop much of our current insanity, much less turn it around, without a widespread spiritual awakening. Bache and others are optimistic that if many of us begin to see the light, this will spread through the Collective Unconscious and many others will begin to wake up. Ultimately there will be enough awakened persons on the planet to fully recognize our errors and correct them. This is necessary to insure the future survival of the human race, as well as curtailing the destruction of other species.
Consequently if we have hopes for the survival of our civilization, and a future for our children and grandchildren, it would be prudent to take advantage of the profound learning opportunities provided by Dark Night, Early Dawn.
An excellent introduction to this book, with knowledgeable and insightful comments on the contents, is provided in the Foreword by the eminent LSD researcher, Stanislav Grof:
Foreword by Stanislav Grof
By Permission of the State University of New York Press
The second half of the twentieth century has seen an extraordinary renaissance of interest in the exploration of human consciousness. Its most dramatic and widely publicized expressions were clinical research with psychedelics, conducted during the 1950s and 19960s in many countries of the world, and unsupervised self-experimentation with these remarkable agents. After drastic administrative and legal restrictions terminated scientific experimentation with psychedelics, deep self-exploration has continued in the form of powerful new forms of nondrug experiential psychotherapy, such as various neo-Reichian approaches, hypnosis, primal therapy, rebirthing, and Holotropic Breathwork.
Laboratory research contributed the methods of sensory deprivation, biofeedback, lucid dreaming, and the use of various electronic entertainment devices. The work with patients dying of terminal diseases and the study of the states of consciousness emerging in near-death situations gave birth to a new scientific discipline--thanatology. Careful systematic investigation of spontaneous past-life experiences in children and of past-life experiences induced in adults by a variety of methods made it possible to subject to scientific scrutiny the concept of reincarnation and karma. The zeitgeist of this era also brought great enthusiasm for the study of shamanism, the ritual life of aboriginal cultures, the spiritual philosophies of the East, and the mysticism of all countries and ages.
The empirical interest in consciousness and spirituality characterizing this exciting period has been accompanied by systematic efforts to find expanded theoretical frameworks for the wide range of revolutionary discoveries concerning the nature of the human psyche that this work had produced. These challenging observations inspired transpersonal psychology, a discipline that studies the entire range of human experience, including nonordinary states of consciousness, and that attempts to bring together the best of spirituality and the best of science.
Christopher Bache--philosopher, religious scholar, and inspired educator--has made important contributions to this endeavor and has established himself as one of the most creative and original transpersonal thinkers. In a series of articles, presentations at international transpersonal conferences, and his earlier book Lifecycles, he has addressed some of the most important and urgent theoretical issues that have emerged in modern consciousness research. Dark Night, Early Dawn represents a culmination and synopsis of years of his explorations and is his most mature work to date.
What makes Bache's contribution invaluable is a rare combination of rigorous spiritual discipline, profound personal experience with nonordinary states of consciousness, incisive analytical thinking, and impeccable scholarship. All these qualities are absolutely indispensable for the important task he has set for himself--to seek the greatest possible clarity in a highly controversial area that has the potential to change the entire philosophical paradigm of Western science. As Bache himself convincingly demonstrates in the introductory chapter of his book, what is at stake is nothing less than our understanding of consciousness, our identity, and the nature of reality itself.
It is astonishing that the academic circles in their deep commitment to materialistic philosophy and linear determinism have thus far refused to critically examine the extraordinary and startling observations amassed by several decades of consciousness research and transpersonal psychology. Had that happened, it would have led to an inevitable conclusion--the urgent need for a radical revision of our understanding of human nature and the nature of reality. Bache justly compares the academic community to a culture that in its search for truth has denied itself access to the night sky with its deep secrets and bases its worldview entirely on daytime observations.
A salient example of this deep reluctance to face observations that undermine and challenge the leading paradigm is the repeatedly confirmed fact of out-of-the body experiences, during which disembodied consciousness, even that of congenitally blind persons, is capable of perceiving events in the immediate environment and in various remote locations. This observation, in and of itself, should be sufficient to raise serious doubts about our current beliefs concerning the relationship between consciousness and matter. And yet, educators in our universities continue to teach with unshaken authority that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter and that it somehow mysteriously emerges out of the complexity of neurophysiological processes in the central nervous system.
Christopher Bache does much more than bring a convincing argument for the critical epistemological and ontological importance of the study of nonordinary states of consciousness. Using his intimate knowledge of the deepest recesses of the human psyche, he brings extraordinary clarity into theoretically important areas in transpersonal psychology, particularly psychedelic states, near-death experiences, and out-of-body episodes.
Bache often reveals impartially both the strength and the weakness of a particular set of data or theoretical position. In the chapter discussing reincarnation, for example, he clearly indicates the impeccability of Ian Stevenson's research of the past-life experiences in children and the defective reasoning of his critics. At the same time, he demonstrates that the very aspects of Stevenson' material that make it compelling evidence for rebirth also create a bias that tends to prevent us from appreciating the profound implications of reincarnation for our understanding of our true identity.
Bache's search for our deeper identity takes him to psychedelic research, where he explores numerous examples of a much more extensive dissolution of personal boundaries than those found in Stevenson's material. Besides the temporal dissolution of boundaries, psychedelic states often involve various degrees of transcendence of spatial limitations. Here Bache focuses on a problem that has intrigued me from the very beginning of my psychedelic research. When the transformation process reaches beyond postnatal biography, one's experiences typically make a quantum leap and become distinctly transpersonal. Instead of identifying with our body and ego in different stages of personal development, we can become the consciousness of entire human groups or even humanity as a whole.
As Bache graphically demonstrates, using examples from his own experience, in many instances this involves re-experiencing unimaginable suffering from various periods of human history. The question arises: is it conceivable that suffering of this scope and depth can be seen as being merely part of the healing process of just one individual? Bache convincingly argues that it is not, that at this point, the therapeutic process transcends the boundaries of the individual and begins to affect the healing of the field of human consciousness as a whole. The archetypal images of Jesus, whose suffering redeems the sins of humanity, or of a Bodhisattva, who sacrifices his or her own spiritual liberation to help other sentient beings, are very appropriate symbols for this phase of the process.
Applying his expanded understanding of the perinatal level to the field of thanatology, Bache focuses on the enigma of terrifying near-death experiences and extends this discussion to the problem of hell. The early reports of near-death experiences all emphasized the transcendental and heavenly nature of these episodes and the possibility of hellish NDEs was long denied by most thanatologists Although their existence has now been proven beyond any reasonable doubt, no one before Bache had offered a convincing explanation of them.
Bache argues that the passage to light that is a common part of the near-death experience represents a condensed and accelerated traversing of what I have called the perinatal realm. Viewed from this perspective, the hellish near-death experience can be seen as an incomplete NDE that did not carry the individual all the way through to the encounter with the divine light. In the same vein, Bache suggests that hell, rather than being the abode of eternal damnation, is an extremely difficult stage of the journey of spiritual opening, a stage of deep and accelerated purification.
Bache then turns to Robert Monroe's soul-centered accounts of his out-of-body experiences and ponders their seeming differences from those encountered in psychedelic sessions, which have a much more holistic character. H argues that these differences reflect the different techniques used to induce these experiences, with psychedelic states dissolving the egoic boundaries more aggressively than out-of-body states, thus allowing broader transpersonal patterns of reality to surface in awareness. Accordingly, he emphasizes the need for transpersonal theorists to pay greater attention to how one's experiential method influences the shape and texture of transpersonal disclosure.
The conclusions of Bache's critical analysis of selected observations from transpersonal psychology and consciousness research, startling and shocking as they might appear to the mind of an average Western scientist, are fully congruent with the great Eastern spiritual philosophies and mystical traditions of the world, which Aldous Huxley referred to as the perennial philosophy. They show that human beings do have a fixed identity and that the temporal as well as spatial boundaries of our individual self are relative and ultimately illusory.
When we transcend all these boundaries in deep experiential self-exploration, we realize that all of existence is a manifestation of our Being that has been known throughout the ages by many different names--Atman, the Tao, Buddha, the Great Spirit, Allah, Keter, the Cosmic Christ, and many others. The ultimate identity of each of us with this principle, whom Bache chooses to call the Sacred Mind, is the deepest secret of all great spiritual traditions.
While earlier chapters of the book represent primarily original theoretical contributions to transpersonal psychology, its closing chapters also have important practical implications. By discussing at some length and with practical examples how his inner search influenced the nature and quality of his teaching, Bache reveals the existence of mechanisms that are of great interest for educators. His analysis of the emergence of transpersonal fields in the classroom setting has the potential to revolutionize the educational process.
Even more far-reaching are Bache's reflections on the current global crisis. Many authors have suggested that humanity is approaching an evolutionary crossroads, but Bache goes further to explore the role that the impending eco-crisis may play in this transition and outlines specific dynamics operating in the collective unconscious that he believes might be responsible for changing the baseline of human consciousness in an unexpectedly short period of time.
Furthermore, if he is right that the transformational work of an individual can generate a therapeutic effect in the field of species consciousness, then each of us has the potential to contribute to a more harmonious future for the planet by complementing our social activism with deep inner work. Considering the consistent failure of all economic, military, political, and diplomatic interventions, such a mass inner transformation might be humanity's only real hope for survival.
Dark Night, Early Dawn is a unique contribution to transpersonal psychology. It is a product of creative imagination inspired by inner journeys to the farthest frontiers of the psyche and yet a work forged by a rigorous intellect and impeccable scholarship. A fine example of a courageous pioneering venture into rare traveled territories of the human psyche, it will remain a classic in the transpersonal field.
Dark Night, Early Dawn, may be ordered on the Suny Press Website.
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