The Human Encounter With Death. Stanislav Grof & Joan Halifax.

The Human Encounter With Death.
Stanislav Grof and Joan Halifax.
Dutton: 1978.

Certainly one of the most interesting books I’ve read for quite some time. The authors are psychiatrists who administered LSD to dying cancer patients to see if it would alleviate pain or enable them to cope with their impending death. It did both — sometimes, and in varying degrees.

After discussing this research project, the authors launch into a comparison of LSD sessions with both near-death/resuscitation experiences as well as initiation rites throughout world history. Not surprisingly, a major component is the death-rebirth experience (perinatal) where the subject describes a scene much like the process of birth; often followed by a transcendental feeling of unity with the cosmos. The authors, having experienced LSD themselves, may give too much credence to the reality of the hallucinations/insights, even after explaining that they are caused by lack of oxygen to the brain — inhibited by LSD, through meditative breathing techniques, fasting, etc. Their argument is that because those archetypes are within all of us, they must point to an external reality. Not so sure…