States of Consciousness

Have you or a loved one ever lost the ability to know what is real?

Have you ever wondered about strange or frightening experiences and wished there was a way to understand their meaning?

Do you worry about your own or other people’s substance-related moods and behaviors, or feared the grip of an addiction?

Have you ever been with a loved one in a coma or dying process, and wished for more techniques to stay close to them?

Processwork offers a non-pathologizing model for understanding and working with the full range of human experience. Arnold Mindell recognised that there is a continuum that links ordinary states of consciousness, those considered normal in a given culture and historical moment, to altered and extreme states that may lead to a person being hospitalised or incarcerated.

In his 1988 book, City Shadows: Psychological Interventions in Psychiatry, Mindell showed how psychiatric conditions could be understood from a bigger viewpoint as states that are extreme, relative to a particular cultural norm. A person suffering from a psychiatric condition can be understood as someone trapped in this extreme state, unable to re-access their ordinary state of mind. Processwork involves facilitating the relationship process between the extreme and the ordinary state.

Processwork sees altered states of consciousness in both an individual and a cultural perspective, it is a part of worldwork. For example in industrialised society, wakeful, focused attention is required and expected in daily life, while more dreamy, fantastical and imaginative states are less valued. It seems that this cultural value system may be linked to substance use and addictions, because without cultural support, people turn to substances to access the non-ordinary states of consciousness. Mindell writes of this bigger perspective:

“Perhaps people with extreme state experiences are potential shamans, capable of bridging worlds. It’s important for everyone to bring up and live marginalized experiences, at least a little bit. … we need all people, all our diversity to get where we are going as a world. … Try all worlds. All paths. Stay close to the dreaming, the quantum level, and the level of universal spaces. Then extreme states won’t be that extreme and more people will be more creative. … I just want to stress again, we need everyone. We need every experience. Only together do we create wholeness and show the different phases of our human dance.” Arnold Mindell, (2013, p. 163-4).[1]

Mindell, A. (2013).The Dance of the Ancient One: How the Universe Solves Personal and World Problems. Eugene, OR: Deep Democracy Exchange.

Built on these insights, Processwork has developed methods for working with altered and extreme states including addictions, coma, near death experiences, and psychiatrically diagnosed conditions. The paradigm focuses on a deep democracy approach that values and supports both the ordinary and the extreme parts of the person’s experience. The goal is to increase the individual’s capacity to move freely and consciously through the continuum of their experience rather than being lost in an extreme state, unable to return to an ordinary state of mind. Nonverbal communication techniques are important, for example, movement, imagery and inner body experience, particularly in coma and near death work.

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Mindell, A. (2013).The Dance of the Ancient One: How the Universe Solves Personal and World Problems. Eugene, OR: Deep Democracy Exchange.