On the Brink of Revelation

On the weather report, another record-breaking hurricane is chewing up the coast. You drive out through the suburbs and discover a shantytown, the kind you’ve always associated more with Somalia or Haiti than your own hometown. One more overtime shift at work, and your company health plan will automatically sign you up for Prozac. On TV, there’s another war.

Around and around and around. Even the most entrenched believers in the new global order have a mounting sense that some fundamental mindshift is needed. The contradictions of late-capitalist life put increasing pressure on our psyches to synthesize the data, yet insights come only in fits and starts. They appear like desert mirages, dazzling us with their promise and then dissolving into sand.

And suddenly we are all wondering: What would it be like to drink deeply? Can we in the First World have a revelation? Would we recognize one if we had it?

A few pioneers have been working with these questions. In the past, political radicals have been as quick as reactionary conservatives to dismiss maverick consciousness researchers. But suddenly, the discoveries of mind explorers like Stanislav Grof, Jean Houston and the recently deceased John Lilly, seem to have a penetrating cultural significance. The currency of the times is revelation and epiphany.

Grof, a former Johns Hopkins professor and chief of a Maryland psychiatric research center, has scoured ancient and modern methods of consciousness change in order to develop techniques that can trigger revelatory experience rapidly and in a broad spectrum of people. In his Holotropic Breathwork technique, a combination of intense breathing, expressive music and focused bodywork causes dramatic psychological transformations in most people. Within minutes, those who try it begin to experience things more acutely (much the way people often say they do in the midst of abrupt life changes). Colors look brighter, memories appear more detailed, symbols and words provoke pluralities of interpretation. Sensitivity to sensations in the body and brain is heightened; old patterns are suddenly seen in a new light.

For serious explorers, this is only the beginning.

As their sensory experiences evolve, mind explorers frequently find that the psychological and the physical become intertwined, and watch amazed as each influences the other. Incorporeal presences may seem as real as the walls, walls may seem permeable, or normal material reality may dissolve into flowing energy fields. The mind’s and body's instruments of perception come to be understood as critical components in constructing a sense of reality. (What is music without our eardrums conveying it, our memories labeling it?) Even if such experiences are discounted as “hallucinations,” there is a lingering sense that normal reality itself could be one of those illusions – the ultimate meme, prolonged interminably by its social infectiousness.

Even this is merely one stage. As revelation extends, “time” as a psychological process can stop; explorers report a sense of intense connection to their body’s internal cellular activities, to collective memory, or to other beings or the entire human race. Some feel the inextricable unity of good and evil, oppressor and oppressed, or find themselves dissolved into a universal consciousness.

It all sounds wild and chaotic, and yet, for many of us, oddly familiar as well. Under the pressure of stress, despair or confusion, more and more of us are peering over the brink of breakthroughs of this type. Grof suggests it’s “archetypal” – as the human crisis deepens, our consciousness tries to promote healing by uncovering repressed truths.

We resist the shift: Who wants to lose their grip on everyday life? We dread an exile from so-called “consensus reality,” imagining an impoverished, eternal loneliness of insanity. But in fact, those who’ve gone all the way down the rabbit hole of epiphany come back with a view of a world that has truly and profoundly changed. Grof alone has compiled records from thousands of such people. Without any coercion, the overwhelming majority emerge with a non-violent attitude, reverence for nature, anti-materialistic values, a keen interest in spiritualism (though not organized religion), a holistic approach to health, and an intense desire for social change.

Why? Because one common effect of these non-ordinary states is pure awe. Even a faint glimpse beyond the spectacle and into the vastness of existence transforms into breathtaking experiential reality. This almost invariably creates deep humility before the infinite complexity of nature. Unsurpassed levels of compassion emerge from the intimate identification with other people, creatures and things. Visceral immersion in the entire human collective makes it almost impossible not to consider the effects of every personal action on the global community and future generations.

Often, the end result is confusion. But rather than growing depressed or anxious or paralyzed by it, revelatory explorers tend to become irrepressible skeptics. For them, no moral perspective, dominating mood or intellectual conclusion can pass for absolute “fact” or “objective truth” very easily, or for long. Revelation is a radical deconstruction of the senses of self and reality. It allows entirely different impulses to influence your actions; it shortens the distance to spontaneity and authenticity.

As long as revolutionaries have existed, they’ve sought ways to fundamentally change how people think and see the world. Frustrated, they fall back on reform: the attempt to persuade people to follow prescriptions for change. Consciously or not, most people resist. But when someone’s whole sense of reality shifts – say, when they realize that death is closer than they had allowed themselves to think – radical new decisions come effortlessly.

The First World is a culture preparing for revelation. We are watching, alarmed, as rips appear in the fabric of our reality. At the same time, we are quick to forget, ignore, or send in reinforcements. How many are ready to step through the hole?

See More Articles

Join the Third Force Collective to access our revolutionary briefings.

This isn't a paywall. You can close it if you just want to read the article below it. But our aim is to win the planetary endgame —  we want to catalyze a moment of truth, a stunning reversal of perspective from which corpo-consumerist forces never fully recover. For that we need you.