The Renewal Process

To quote from “The Stormy Search for the Self” by S. & C. Grof:

This important type of transformational crisis has been described by the California psychiatrist and Jungian analyst John Perry, who gave it the name renewal process. Perry’s experience with this type of crisis came from many years of psychotherapy with young people in acute episodes of non-ordinary states of consciousness. These people were allowed and encouraged to go through the process without suppressive medication.

The religious imagery described the patient as another Christ, leading the fight against the Devil; like Christ, he was to be sacrificed and rise again. The Garden of Eden figured prominently: it was once occupied by Father, Son and Holy Ghost, but then taken over by the Devil. Interwoven with this were stories of four kings of the four directions, and a major conflict between the King of the North and the South.

As a mythical hero the patient found himself performing great wonders. As King Richard the Lion-Hearted, he killed a tiger and strangled a serpent just after he was born. As a Japanese hero he took on the form of a serpent and acquired a ‘vicious power to strike back’; he killed a tarantula who was a Japanese mother dressed for battle, and he overcame several monsters.

– John Perry, “The Far Side of Madness”

People involved in the renewal process experience dramatic sequences that involve enormous energies and occur on a scale that makes these individuals feel they are at the centre of events that have global or even cosmic relevance. Their psyche becomes a fantastic battleground where the forces of Good and Evil are engaged in a universal combat that seems critical to the future of the world.

Another important aspect of the renewal process is a great preoccupation with death in many different forms. Individuals engaged in this type of crisis might feel that it is essential for them to understand the nature of dying and death and what functions these have in the universal order. They might experience a connection with the after-life and communication with their ancestors. The idea of ritual killing, sacrifice, and martyrdom seems particularly significant and appealing.

For those undergoing this radical psychological renewal, the problem of opposites is also an issue of special interest.

When the episode is allowed to proceed beyond the initial turmoil and confusion, the experiences become increasingly pleasant and gradually move toward a resolution. The process often culminates in the experience of ‘sacred marriage’, a blissful union with an ideal partner. This can be either an imaginary archetypal figure or an idealized person from one’s life on whom this role is projected.

At this time, the process seems to be reaching the center or organizing principle of the psyche that C. G. Jung referred to as the Self. This transpersonal center represents our deepest and true nature and is probably closely related to the Hindu concept of Atman-Brahman, the Divine Within. As the process of renewal reaches completion and integration, the number four often plays an important role; in Jungian psychology, this number is seen as an archetypal symbol of the Self and of wholeness. Quadrated circles (often appearing in spontaneous drawings) seem to be a particularly important indication that the process is approaching successful resolution.

As the intensity of the experiences subsides, the individual realizes that the entire drama was by and large limited to the inner world and becomes ready for reentry into everyday reality. Allowing the experiences to take their spontaneous course, Perry was able to recognise that this process was by it’s very nature healing and restorative.

The healing and transformative potential of the renewal process, as well as its connection with an important stage of human cultural history, makes it unlikely that we are dealing with erratic products of mental disease. Perry offers an explanation that is radically different from the position of mainstream psychiatry; according to him, this process signifies a major step in the direction of what Jung called ‘individuation’ – a fuller expression of one’s deeper potential.”