Wm James (1842-1882) was born in NYC and educated around the world. He was a medical student at Harvard University where he studied anatomy, physiology and eventually psychology. He wrote the first book on psychology, Principles of Psychology, Vol I and II, which took him twelve years to write. He and his wife lost a toddler son and Mrs. James resorted to mediums in the Boston area to discover where her son had gone. She eventually found Mrs. Piper, who became James’ “white crow” – the exceptional example of a medium he and his colleagues studied for years. His book the Varieties of Religious Experience is an excellent collection of spiritual experiences and is now required reading mostly by theology students. James is sometimes known as the Father of American Psychology. He started the Psychical Research Society in New England based on the society in England where they studied “mental healers” who used techniques such as crystal gazing automatic writing clairvoyance, telekinesis, ghosts, apparitions, images, death bed images, etc.
Carl Jung (1875-1961), a Swiss psychiatrist, first called his psychology Complex Psychology and eventually Analytic Psychology. He and James could be considered the first Transpersonal Psychologists (TPs). Transpersonal Psychology (TP) is the best method for understanding spiritual experiences (SEs) as this psychology explores multiple states of consciousness including waking, dreaming and various contemplative states. They also encompass experiences both within and outside of religious traditions. TP includes all of the psychologies ever founded.
Jung’s father was a minister and died when Jung was a teenager. By that time, Jung had read every book in his father’s library. He knew God was not in there and he knew his father had not known where God was. His mother was psychic as was his grandfather. His grandfather and his second wife would “speak” to his first wife who was on the other side during their lunch. Jung was used to seeing these distinct types of consciousness in his family; therefore, he studied psychology when he attended university. Jung’s first job when he graduated was to be an assistant at a mental hospital that was one city block long. He and his wife and other staff members lived on the second floor of the hospital. Emma, Carl’s wife, organized his notes on patients and eventually became a therapist herself. After several years of living at the hospital, they built their own home outside of Zurich on a lake. Jung was especially interested in a state of consciousness which exhibited a quality he called “numinosity” which is defined as “being filled with a sense of the presence of divinity; holy and appealing to the higher emotions or to the aesthetic sense; spiritual.” Jung was friends with Freud (1856-1939) for six years and eventually broke off his friendship in 1909 when he could not agree with Freud’s view that the unconscious held only family memories and issues of sexuality.
The term TP actually emerged in the late 1960s as a result of Abraham Maslow’s (1908-1970) studies where he explored exceptionally psychologically healthy, self-actualizing individuals who tended to have what he called peak experiences. These were like spiritual and/or mystical experiences. This term was then used in the educational field rather than SEs. Maslow and his colleagues were the first psychologists to study healthy people and look for positive experiences only that people were having.
Once I graduated with my master’s degree in social work I started reading about the personal lives of James and Jung particularly. This material, which had not been given to us in our graduate education, interested me. I had lived in California for a number of years where I became interested in psychics, mediums, etc. I felt confused that this history and the fact that both James and Jung believed and spoke about God had been deleted from my education. Why? I wondered.
I had started a private practice a few years after graduating from Rutgers University and attended a program sponsored by the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Menlo Park, California that was to be held in Connecticut the week my daughter was to be at sleep-away camp. What a neat synchronicity! (More on that later).
I went to this training where I learned about TP and Jungian psychology. Then three days into the conference, we were to lay down and breathe to music that would activate my invisible chakra system. I was given what I did not know then was a Jungian instruction that when your mental level is lowered, one can really go inward. Below is one description I have previously written explaining my Breathwork Experience.
2. You had a profound spiritual experience during a Holotropic Breathwork training. Can you share what that spiritual experience was and how that affected you?
My first breathwork was done in a large room where I could lay down on blankets with a pillow. (This procedure is found starting in Scotten, Chinen & Battista, 1996, p. 369). I asked if I could go first, as I wanted to have my own experience freely without watching anyone. I laid down, and Jackie Small, the workshop coordinator, did a guided meditation ending with the instructions that we were to “Just breathe to the music forcefully and not to think.” It was the only time in my life I was told not to think, for thinking had been my biggest survival tool.
I do remember experiencing floating and feeling like I was in water, which would be the undisturbed intrauterine experience that Grof (1998, p. 12) describes in his BPM I stage. My stomach was experiencing all kinds of feelings, like there were tiny hands inside of me doing extraordinary things. Everything was incredibly positive, and I eventually pulled my legs up to the birthing position when I felt someone else’s breath come through my body and out of my mouth.
I had the thought, “Whose breath is that? It is not mine.” It was coming in between my own breaths. Then I told myself to “Stop thinking. I was not supposed to think.” So, I did stop and just let the other breath come and we “both” breathed for a while.
It was after this that I remember the experience becoming very chaotic. I did not know that I was in the middle of re-experiencing my original birth for this life. When the baby is coming down the birth canal, the baby has no idea of what to do because it is innocent. It seems like an ongoing hell.
During this experience, I had a strong need for someone to push on my feet. The trainers managed to do this for me. I then began a very tumultuous fight but of what I did not know. I remember having the thought, “Where is my mother?” and then simultaneously thinking “Don’t think, just breathe.” I kept breathing heavily and pushing and being glad the trainers were also pushing on the bottoms of my feet. And I do remember another thought of “Why would you want your mother now?”
I was feeling terribly alone as Grof explains in Base Perinatal Matrix II (BPM II, Grof, 1988, p. 14) and if it had not been for the trainers saying, “You can do it. You can do it.” I cannot imagine how I would have done it. I know now that the transition of death must be a lot easier than coming down this small tunnel of birth.
The breathwork trainers told me later that once this “rebirth” took place that I laid there and made little baby movements on my blanket with my hands curled up next to my face just like an infant. I often have wished this had been videotaped. When I felt ready, they helped me to stand up and I wearily but blissfully looked around the room at the others – some in various stages of their own breathing processes and some sitting quietly beside them as sitters. These were the people I had thought so strange just four days before.
This process had seemed as if it took twenty minutes, but had taken about four hours, so I also know what it is like to lose connection with linear time. It was a bit disorganizing to get up hours later when it seemed to me, I had only been on the blanket for a brief time.
I was then directed to a table with drawing supplies, given a piece of paper with a circle on it and I drew my “rebirth” drawing. Jung called circle drawings mandalas. “In Jung’s estimation, the circle was a representation of the ultimate wholeness only possible to the Self.” “Mandalas mostly appear in connection with chaotic psychic states of disorientation or panic. They then have the purpose of reducing the confusion to order, though this is never the conscious intention of the patient. At all events they express order balance and wholeness.” (Jung, Vol 9, I, para. 645)
Illustration of Rebirth
It was just a simple flower with a bright sun in the background. It had to come completely from my unconscious because I had no idea why I drew it although it did, please me very much when I finished. I smile now whenever I come across it most probably because of the simplicity of it. I felt like these words in the below statements from James describes my experience:
“Then, if ever, I believe I stood face-to-face with God and born anew of his spirit. There was, as I recall it, no sudden change of thought or of belief, except that my early crude conception had, as if were burst into flower. (James, 1985, p. 67),”
After lunch, in a group session, the facilitator told me that I had experienced a rebirth. It was true. Now I knew there was a God, which was always my question growing up. I also knew I was spiritually connected to these people who were in the room with me and that we were all spiritually connected to everyone in the world. I felt as if we are all a part of the whole cosmos as a wave is part of the ocean. As James stated, there are no words to describe the awe and complete WOW power of the whole experience.
As with all SEs, this one came to me because my soul knew I needed it to understand the true feeling of God and the Holy Spirit. My father had been a Protestant and my mother a Catholic so there was nothing in our family discussed except differences. Also, living in an alcoholic home, I did not think God would be interested in us.
The most profound effect from this Breathwork Experience is that I now, like Jung, know there is a God. It is a grounding knowing that helps me understand much more about Jungian Psychology and what Carl Jung was trying to teach us.
After I had this experience, clients began coming with many more that I was to help untangle. I finally decided that if I had one and these other clients had one, that many more people were having them. And I wanted to be able to explain more about them, so I applied and completed my PhD where my thesis title was Naming Spiritual Experiences,
3. Could you talk a little bit about Jungian Psychology. What is your understanding of it?
When we are born our conscious and unconscious are separated. Part of your ego is immortal. You take some of it with you when you die. We want to make the ego as rational and understanding of you as possible. We need to teach your ego that you have an unconscious. The unconscious is a living psychic entity which is relatively autonomous behaving as if it is a personality with intentions of its own. Note how different this definition is versus Freud who thought it just a receptacle for family-of-origin and sexual repressed material.
Jung taught that we all have a God image. My God image is likened to the Native Americans thought of the wind as spirit. I believe that things/thoughts are blown at us much of the time. It is our job to capture these thoughts, decide if we agree and, if we agree, to incorporate them into our lives. What is your God image?
Jung studied the Gnostic texts, which he stated could have been written by a Jungian. These texts come from Roman Egypt in the first two centuries after Christ. Gnostic knowledge is the knowledge of the heart, intuition and thinking. Gnosis is more of a feeling rather than a philosophy and one is softened by these feelings. Jung’s question of “What is the purpose of your soul?” presumes your life has meaning, which I believe is an especially important thought in the increasingly insane time in which we live.
4. How do you teach clients about the unconscious?
If a client understands that the unconscious has an intelligence of its own, that memories come from that with oppositional stances behaving as if there is another personality “down there,” it makes the process of therapy easier. If they understand this before it happens to them, they are much easier able to accept this part of them as something they must endeavor to bring to consciousness. They have much less resistance and denial in collaborating with me if I have been successful in explaining this to them in the beginning of their treatment.
For example: Let us say we have a narcissistic male client who is coming due to a relationship problem where he is defensive anytime his partner has a conflicting need. He cuts her off and his need comes first. Not only does he do this, but he refuses to discuss what he has done as his defense mechanism is so high as to save himself feeing so “bad.” He then tells both her and me how narcissistic she is and why are not I trying to “fix” her also. If I have already taught him this this is how an unconscious eruption behaves – defensively – he will be able to manage his “bad” parts easier and incorporate them into his consciousness without defending or blaming.
I enjoy teaching that in Jungian Psychology wholeness is an important concept. We are all trying to become whole. In teaching couples the process of forgiveness and reconciliation, it is important to Jung that they understand opposites and bring the opposites in their relationship together. As they get closer, they create ONE. They need to really know that it’s important in a relationship to think about two views not just one. A person must be able to hold the ”tension of opposites” rather than thinking about eliminating the other person. It is about finding the forces that are needed to work together so they both can move forward. They usually like this idea of holding the tension of opposites.
5. How do you incorporate spirituality and psychology into your work?
The easiest way for me to incorporate spirituality and psychology into my work is to just explain Carl Jung and what he believed. Most clients have heard of Jung and want to know more about him, so I find this easy. I think this is easier for me also because my clients come from traumatic and very dysfunctional homes. They have disassociated in their childhoods and, therefore, are more interested in psychic and paranormal experiences. Research has shown us that if you come from a traumatic home environment, because you disassociated there in order to survive, that you will have more SEs in adulthood. These are the people who naturally are drawn to me and my practice.
I start with Jung’s unconscious as I said and work on the five areas that he names: 1) Your life and what happened to you 2) Your parents lives and how they affected you 3) Your ancestors and what you know about them – Jung believed in genealogy so many start this process in their lives 4) Your culture or your country – how did that affect you? 5) Your Self and Soul. As we work on the first four levels of Jung’s unconscious, the fifth level of their Self and Soul will automatically start giving us symbols and myths that will help us decide what their Soul purpose in life is. This, according to Jung, is one of the things we need to know. I also have an archetype quiz I have them fill out in the beginning of treatment (Pearson, 1991).
6. What are some of the SEs or phenomena that clients have talked to me about?
Clients have come with Near Death Experiences (NDEs), Out-of-Body Experiences (OOBs), Past-Life Memories or Reincarnation Experiences, Communications with Spirits/Deceased Loved Ones, Possession States, etc. to name a few. The most important thing is to valid their experience. It might have taken them years to come to me because of their fear of being “crazy.”
I then give them history of what is known about what has happened to them. This means going through characteristics of diverse types of SEs so we can understand what has happened to them. In working through these characteristics and history, we come upon their truth. SEs sometimes take many months or even years to unfold. So, they may come and go as different material appears in their memory and from their unconscious.
I have discovered that this is really the work that Jung did himself. Whatever happened to him he researched until he could find someone back in history who described what he felt. And then he was validated, and his psychology grew from that knowledge. This is mostly how I help them; I think. And, of course, I listen, and I thoroughly enjoy the process with them.
A synchronistic event is an event of a meaningful coincidence where two or more random events occur and have significant meaning for a person. Yes, I have had them. There are meaningful ones and just fun ones. I think spirit makes them happen – our guides, our Guardian Angel, our deceased loved ones – all of the above and there may be more that I do not understand. But I know they are real because they almost point the way to say that I am on the right track and somebody “up – there” is happy about what I am doing. Jung had a spirit guide who told him that not every thought in his head came from himself. He had to give credit to others for some of his thoughts! So, I do believe that we get synchronicities because my spirit guide sends mine to me and your spirit guide sends you the ones you need.
You see I not only believe in God, but I believe in the entire system that I have been privy to because of my research. I have investigated mediums. I have one that I am now working with, and we may author a book about a therapist and a medium and what we both see. Because of this research for a year and a half, I have watched someone with the gift of mediumship. And it is a gift as is stated in the Bible. I have been given messages from my deceased oldest daughter on the other side – from one ex-husband who was just lovely – from two grandmothers – the list will go on and on eventually. But that is for the book. However, I see how all types of spirits collaborate with her and I have felt some of them give me answers much of the time through what I call my intuition. Remember spirits of all types can send you thoughts. Pay attention to the thoughts you receive because many times they are specific messages for you from those who are watching over you.
Specific synchronicities are: One simple one was while on a plane going south to visit Dr Raymond Moody, a consultant on my PhD committee, I was reading an article on compassion, which compared different religions and how they felt about the golden rule. I was tickled by the synchronistic event of being told by the Alamo rental car person that the best barbecue restaurant on the way from the airport to where I was heading was named, of course, The Golden Rule.
With this second one, I actually heard a voice outside of my head explain something. It was Halloween evening and my dog had experienced kids coming up the front stairs and me giving them chocolate bars from the bowl which Emma, the poodle, had put her nose into. A friend had spent the evening. We had apple pie – two servings each eventually. The friend left. The dog was sitting right behind me or in front of me wanting something as I got ready for bed. I was oblivious as to what but after three times of almost tripping over a fifty-three-pound dog, I bent down to her level and said directly into her face: “I do not know why you are doing this, but it is dangerous. I could trip and fall on you or just trip. What is your problem?” And a voice that I heard around my ears said, “Everybody got something but me.” I could not believe what I had just heard but chalked it up to mental telepathy, which has been proven. I gave her a small treat and she went directly to bed, which solved my problem. I later asked my medium friend to ask her spirit guide/s what was that all about. She was told “Karen’s spirit guide has a wonderful sense of humor.”
I hope I have given you some history about our psychological ancestors and why I enjoy teaching from their perspectives. I teach other therapists and sometimes regular people on the Internet: CEYOU.org and CHI Professional Development (chiprodevelopment.com) for $39.95 for two-hour sessions on Jungian Psychology and Spirituality. I will be teaching an eight-week course on our psychological spiritual ancestors and how to use their material to discover our soul and for spiritual development on CHI in the beginning of 2023.
I enjoy hearing from people, and I type over 100 wpm, so emails are always welcome with thoughts and/or questions at email@example.com. Free interviews and podcasts are available on my website kareneherrick.com. I wish you all well in developing your soul and on your spiritual journey.
Rev. Karen E. Herrick, PhD, LCSW, LMSW, CADC, ACMHP has shared her clinical expertise for thirty years in private practice and by lecturing throughout the United States on dysfunctional and addictive homes, disassociation, grief, and loss from a Jungian psychological perspective.
Her books, You’re Not Finished Yet ,“Grandma What is a Soul?” and Psychology of the Soul and the Paranormal are available through Amazon, Kindle and Audible. Her websites are kareneherrick.com and grandmawhatisasoul.com. Her youtube channel is https://www.youtube.com/c/KarenHerrickPhD.
Grof, S., M.D. (1988). The Adventure of Self-Discovery. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. p. 14.
Grof, S. M.D. (1989). Spiritual Emergency When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis. CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher Inc.
Herrick, K. E., PhD (2008). Naming Spiritual Experiences (Thesis). MI: ProQuest Information and Learning Company. http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&res_dat=xri:pqdiss&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:dissertation&rft_dat=xri:pqdiss:3299617
James, W. (1950). The Principles of Psychology. (Vol 1, p. 1). NY: Dover Publications. (Original work published 1890).
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Maslow, A.H. (1970). Religions, Values and Peak-Experiences. NY: Penguin Compass.
Pearson, C.S. (1991). Awakening The Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World. NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
Scotton, B.W., M.D., Chinen, A.B., M.D. & Battista, J.R. M.D. (Eds.) (1996). Textbook of Transpersonal Psychiatry and Psychology. NY: Basic Books. p. 369.