In the Hindu religion, the term Brahman describes the immaterial, infinite, omnipresent substrate of the entire universe. It is the reality which makes up every possible aspect of matter, energy, time, space, and being. Though many words have been used to describe this concept, it is ultimately regarded as being undefinable by humans. Brahman cannot be described by physical means, nor can we be made conscious of it, because in essence, Brahman is already part of our consciousness, part of our soul (the atman) and thus dimensional perspectives of being such as yoga, nirvana, enlightenment are not necessary to attain it. We can only realize that we are and have always been a part of the Brahman.
Stanislav Grof, a pioneering researcher into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness for purposes of analyzing, healing and obtaining growth and insight into the human psyche, uses the Brahman concept to distinguish between two different modes of consciousness. Hylotropic refers to the normal, everyday experience of what we agree to be reality, while the holotropic refers to alternative states of consciousness such as mystical or meditative which bring us in communication with the divine, true nature of the self. He argues that in all cultures of human history, except the modern Western industrialized civilization, holotropic states of consciousness were held in great esteem. Contemporary psychiatry categorizes holotropic behavior as psychotic, while other cultures would have embraced these states and induced them when they wanted to connect to their deities, other dimensions of reality, or with the forces of nature. These states were also used for diagnosing and treating illnesses, cultivating extrasensory perception and obtaining artistic inspiration. Careful consideration and time were spent on developing safe and effective ways of harnessing holotropic states.
Graf believes that a wider acceptance of holotropic consciousness would allow modern humans to fully and honestly grapple with their psychic conflicts, thus leading to the development of new attitudes toward the environment we all share. According to Grof, the deepest sources of the current global crisis lie inside the human personality and reflect the abysmal level of consciousness evolution of a great majority of our species.
With this project, we combined the theoretical language of Stanislav Grof, with the practical application of modern, secular spirituality seen in the performances of Joseph Beuys, in order to address this idea of Western society's spiritual stagnation as a result of poor consciousness evolution. Creating, for ourselves, a unique holotropic ritual experience using objects and actions from each of our embellished personal mythologies.
Each of these three performances were carefully tailored to their respective locations, and naturally evolved into an experience that relied less on objects and more on concentration and group energies to be successful. For the initial performance, taking place in an old squash court inside the Massachusetts College of Art & Design, the artists wore over-sized, handmade masks for the majority of this 20+ minute experience. The darkened room, lit only by candles and a small fire burning inside a tin bucket, was soon engulfed by the smell of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and other herbs & spices used to prepare a highly potent tincture. A live sound collage was being created through various cassette players and effects processors, while a fresh fish was rubbed and then gutted with a large ceremonial blade. Spices and liquids were passed amongst the performers and the audience, encouraging a growing number of participants to take up a series of group chants and concentrated gestures. Finally, the seemingly infinite performance was jarringly interrupted when we discovered that smoke from our burning cassette tapes, which had been thrown into the small fire, creating a delightfully toxic micro-climate in the space, had traveled to other portions of the building and set off the alarms. In terms of achieving a unique, non-ordinary level of consciousness using easy-to-find items, it was an indescribable success.