By Jed McKenna
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A person swimming in the ocean far from the shore deals exclusively
with the world of waves and does not get into trouble no matter how
big they are. If the same individual climbs up high on the shore and
is facing only the world of solid forms, there is again no problem. It
is the waterline, where the two worlds mix and neither of them can
be experienced in its own right that presents the difficulties.
-Dr. Stanislav Grof, The Adventure of Self-Discovery*
Dr. Grof distinguishes between two modes of human consciousness; hylotropic and holotropic. I, having formerly inhabited the former and currently inhabiting the latter, will try to explain these two worldviews in light of my own experience and understanding.
The hylotropic, or matter-oriented, mode of consciousness is
the term I am using for the normal, everyday experience of
consensus reality. The holotropic mode of consciousness, or
consciousness aiming toward wholeness and totality of existence,
characterizes certain nonordinary psychological states, such as
meditative, mystical, or psychedelic experiences. -ibid.
Hylotropic refers to the mundane consciousness of nearly everyone nearly all of the time. In this mode, I experience myself as separate and distinct from my environment. The world seems mechanical and materialistic, matter seems solid, time seems linear, space seems fixed, duality seems universal, causality seems to govern events and reality seems real. This is a stagnant state with only room for lateral growth. In short, hylotropic consciousness is the mundane reality of the Segregated State of Human Childhood.
In the hylotropic mode of consciousness, an individual
experiences himself or herself as a solid physical entity with
definite boundaries and with a limited sensory range. -ibid.
In the holotropic mode of consciousness, the mental-emotional barrier that separates me from my environment in the hylotropic mode is no longer in place. Thoughts and feelings seem to influence events and outcomes, time seems flexible and causality seems optional. My environment acts like a natural extension of myself and my reality takes on an interactive dreamlike quality. This is a dynamic state with unlimited room for further development. In short, holotropic consciousness is the dreamstate reality of the Integrated State of Human Adulthood.
In contrast to the narrow and restricted hylotropic mode,
the holotropic variety involves the experience of oneself
as a potentially unlimited field of consciousness that has
access to all aspects of reality without the mediation of
A Fragment of Reality
The wall that divides these two modes of personal reality is the protective egoic shell of the human child who has yet to undergo the second-stage birth transition to human adulthood. Within the artificial and finite environment of the juvenile shell, the world seems to exist independent of self and we are merely guests or trespassers in it: Self and other are two. Once liberated from that eyes-closed, fear-based, herdlevel perspective, our worldview shifts from materialistic and mechanical to idealistic and dreamlike. We merge with our environment and form a cocreative partnership with it: Dreamstate and dreamer are one.
In the hylotropic mode of consciousness, we experience
only a limited and specific segment of the phenomenal
world or consensus reality from one moment to another.
The nature and scope of this experiential fragment of reality
is quite unambiguously defined by our spatial and temporal
coordinates in the phenomenal world, the anatomical and
physiological limitations of our sensory organs, and the
physical characteristics of the environment. -ibid.
From the hylotropic perspective, the holotropic perspective might seem magical and mystical — or like total bullshit — but from the holotropic perspective, holo seems normal and hylo seems like a hobbled and blindered state more befitting domesticated livestock than self-aware beings. From my perspective, the holotropic perspective is the natural state of consciousness of the Human Adult, and the hylotropic perspective is the stage-one birth consciousness of normal children and juvenile adults.
A person whose entire existence is limited to the
hylotropic mode, even if free from manifest clinical
symptoms and thus mentally healthy from the point
of view of traditional psychiatry, is cut off from these
inner resources and incapable of drawing on them. This
leads to chronic frustration of higher transcendental
needs and a sense of lack of fulfillment. -ibid.
The difference between hylo and holo is not spiritual but developmental. The undiscovered truth is that holographic consciousness is the goal of all spiritual seeking, but it’s not the sole province of Buddhists or Taoists or New Agers; it’s the process that all humans must undergo to become what they really are. Nor is it the exclusive vacation destination for trippers and adventurers; it is the full-time consciousness-of-residence for those who complete their birth process. The juvenile ego, however, is committed to its own survival and erects complex defenses against the threat of change.
An average, “healthy” individual has a sufficiently
developed system of psychological defenses to
protect him or her from holotropic intrusions. -ibid.
In theory, everyone everywhere everywhen should prioritize the second-stage birth transition to adulthood to the exclusion of any other concern including survival, but in practice, you and I are the only ones who know about it. Even Grof seems to view it as a special state, but it’s only special because it’s rare, not rarefied.
Holotropic consciousness is not a lofty spiritual ideal, it’s simply the result of the second stage of birth you were meant to undergo at the age of sexual maturity but didn’t. Maybe it’s too late for you now, but maybe it’s not. Of those I know who have achieved holotropic consciousness as a living reality, none did it on nature’s schedule.
With regard to the hylotropic and holotropic modes, nobody is all one or the other. Those in the juvenile state are generally around 98% hylo and 2% holo. It’s in that 2% mode that we are open to good weirdness. That’s when we peek behind the narrative veil to see the structural pattern beneath.
If you think about it, you’ll find that the validity of the 2% disproves the 98%, just as proving the truth of one disproves the possibility of zero. Once you confirm subjectively, to your own satisfaction, any non-ordinary phenomenon in your life — any instance of extra-sensory awareness, any confluence of events revealing unseen agency, any combination of fortune and timing that defies random chance, any act that can only be explained as manifestation or wishcraft — then you have effectively falsified the mechanistic, materialistic, hylotropic model and verified the idealistic holotropic model for yourself.
Incidentally, you will also have reclaimed the self-sovereignty you have abdicated to the Church of Scientism which is wholly based on a materialistic, mechanistic worldview.
The One and Only Way
There is no other spiritual path to follow, teaching to embrace, or level of consciousness to achieve except the progression toward and transition to adulthood. (You are somewhere in the progression stage right now. That’s how you got this far, but where will you go from here?) Nothing else matters, there is no other option to choose, no secondary objective, only a multitude of consolation prizes; work, money, power, love, family, duty, belief, sports, hobbies, shopping, games, entertainment, society, etc. Thanks for playing, better luck next time. In fact, the reason we embrace the idea of a next time is so we don’t have to get serious this time.
Anyone who fails to achieve second-stage birth at the age of sexual maturity (everyone) is effectively halfborn and living at a caterpillar level of the butterfly life they were born to live. Any objective other than second-stage birth transition into our full and rightful lives is an egoic diversion meant to keep us trapped at the tawdry level of melodramatic tragicomic spectacle.
What we seek in spirituality is simply the reconnection to our natural development. There is nothing else for a child to grow into but adulthood, nothing else for the segregated being to aspire to but integration, and nothing for an eyes-closed being to do but open their eyes. All else follows from that.
The nonsense they peddle in the spiritual marketplace is nothing more than shiny baubles, pretty distractions and flowery trappings to lure you away from the serious work of becoming what you really are. Forget enlightenment, bliss, contentment and compassion, and focus on resuming your natural growth and development. Any other goal is just fool’s gold luring us deeper into the dungeon we’re trying to escape.
Transition to adulthood is what you, as a spiritual seeker, are really trying to achieve. You do this by opening your eyes and learning to see, which you do by thinking free of emotional influence, which you do by externalizing the thought process, which you do by writing. Adulthood is the destination, lucidity is the path, and thought is the process of steps by which you travel. That’s it, the search is over. You’ve found the map to the treasure. “I” marks the spot. All that’s left now is the hard work of digging it up and claiming it for your own.
Slaying the Dragon
As a practical matter, we move toward adulthood through the progressive slicing away of attachments. All attachments are elements of the false self, pieces of you, so all detachment is self-mutilation; death by a thousand cuts. The more you cut away, the less attached you are. The less attached you are, the more you ascend and elevate your perspective. The more you ascend, the more painfully aware you become of the attachments dragging you down. Hacking and peeling away elements of the false self is how actual progress is made, and why it so seldom is.
Holotropic consciousness is the mode of being that awaits you, the estate to which you are rightborn heir, the winning lottery ticket in an unchecked pocket, but you have to escape herdlevel consciousness to claim it. This is easier said than done because you’ll want to hold something back, and you can’t. To hold anything back is to hold everything back. All attachments must be cut and you can never really know what everything means until you’re standing in the cave, mortally exhausted, bloody sword in hand, and you can’t believe the goddamn dragon is still alive. If you didn’t get the head, you didn’t get anything. But that’s just a metaphor. Dragon-slaying is like navel-gazing compared to ego-slaying.
This is the true adventure of self-discovery, and look! Here you are.
*Grof, Stanislav. The Adventure of Self-Discovery. State Univ. of New York P., 1988.
Jed McKenna is the author of the Enlightenment, Dreamstate, and Jed Talks trilogies. Find free ebook, articles, spiritual quotations gallery and more at https://www.WisefoolPress.com