COEX Systems; and Unexperienced Experience
Participants also frame their experiences within what Dr. Grof has termed Systems of Condensed Experience, or COEX Systems. We can see a COEX as a string of beads having two components, the thread being the emotionally charged theme of the COEX and the beads the life-events within which the theme is manifest. COEX themes can include, amongst others, feelings of Abandonment, Rejection, Humiliation, Aloneness, Failure, Danger and Fear, etc. Thus a recent event of being humiliated by a boss can be emotionally experienced as a similar event by peers at college, by a teacher at school and by a parent in early childhood; these may followed by a Perinatal memory relating to humiliation or even by a memory of a humiliating episode from a Transpersonal source. Such bundling of emotional residue can result in an explosive charge being released during breathwork. Phenomena like road-rage, as well as other instances of exaggerated and inappropriate emotional response, may be more comprehensible when the COEX principle is included in our point of view.
Holotropic Breathwork and other techniques of regression and emotional release have sometimes been charged with the potential to re-traumatize. Observations from thousands of such experiences that may appear to be re-traumatizing, however, affirm the hypothesis of “Unexperienced Experience” proposed by Irish psychiatrist Ivor Browne. He posits that when the individual is traumatized, and the “fight or flight” mechanisms are inadequate to the task of integrating the traumatic event, the organism “freezes” the experience, enabling a life-saving denial.
Dr. Browne states that as this transaction takes place, by definition, in an involuntary non-ordinary state of consciousness, and that it is therefore necessary to voluntarily enter a non-ordinary state in order for the remedial completion of this heretofore unexperienced experience to occur.
The following “Quote of the Day” from the NY Times was made by Cody Vanzuiden, one of the survivors of the deadly tornado that struck a Boy Scout camp in Iowa in June, 2008;
“I was just laying there in the fetal position, my hands over my head, trying to imagine that I wasn’t really there, that this wasn’t really happening, that it was a dream.”
Dr. Browne writes about such an event: “The "unthinkable" has occurred, and the fear engendered elicits a primitive defensive maneuver. It is a desperate attempt by the individual to forestall a crisis by making the intrusion of threat inadmissible by a process of inhibition. The critical task of working through the experience is suspended, thus subverting assimilation, integration, and adaptation.”
“Unexperienced Experience” by Ivor Browne, detailing his hypothesis is available as a Word document below:
Given society’s lack of success in stemming the tide of individuals afflicted with depression, anxiety, addictions and psycho-spiritual challenges such as loss of meaning in life, it can be reasonably suggested that our existing knowledge of the mechanisms leading to these situations may be incomplete. Preliminary outcomes from exposure to Holotropic Breathwork by individuals with various conditions strongly indicate that this work may have a useful role to play as an adjunct to existing therapeutic endeavors and spiritual path work.