The Dark Side and Spirtual Growth:

A Review of Avalanche by W. Brugh Joy (New York: Ballantine Books, 1990).

This is not a new book, but I finally wrote a long "abstract" of it for Exceptional Human Experience, Vol. 12, No. 1, June 1994. (It turned out to be three fourths of this review, so I had to start over and write a brief summary for EHE.) I had put off abstracting it earlier, more than once, because a brief look told me this was a book I had to read and digest, word by word. Always behind deadline, I decided to save it for a "future issue." Perhaps, also, I would not have appreciated it as much had I read it when it first came out. The present seems to be the "right" time, for I can more fully appreciate where Joy is coming from because of my own experiences of the last few years, and because he helps me to see where in myself/ourself I must move on to. I am writing this more traditional book review in addition to the abstract because I think it is an exceptional book by one who must be an exceptionally wise person. In a sense, it is a continuation of Joy's Way (Tarcher, 1979). Both can be considered volumes in Joy's "EHE autobiography." But although he uses himself as an example, he writes to each of us and everyone: one person conscious of his global self writing to and for the global self that informs us all, albeit in most cases and much of the time it is unconscious.

I feel this book merits a review here as well as an abstract in EHE because Joy deals with exceptional human experience throughout, and especially with ways in which to work with these experiences and incorporate them in one's life. He also emphasizes the importance of exceptional events and the role of so-called negative experiences along the spiritual path.

One quality that holds throughout is that Joy teaches nothing he has not already experienced himself and also has had the experience of demonstrating and teaching to others. Moreover, not only is his teaching global, but he has come by it in far-flung places and shared it throughout the globe, although his dual home base is Arizona and Colorado. No matter what his subject, he writes from personal experience (which he shares, unlike traditional scientists who do not consider the personal to be important), including triggers and qualities of his experiences, the ideas that grew out of them, methods of demonstrating and teaching them.

In his first book, Joy's Way, physician Joy gave us the first half of his EHE autobiography, which as far as he knew, was his whole autobiography, his "way." It was the positive side of the EHE spectrum, the way of love, joy, and inward process/progressùnot that it was not a path without cost. He gave up his medical practice and sold his home to follow his call. But in this, his second EHE autobiography, he describes the other side of exceptional human experience, which drew him out as fully as the former "voices" had done, but into a "negative" world. However, as he himself says of a "horrific" dream he had in which Christ became Lucifer, he found the saving grace, the existence of which any who have had frightening, forbidding EHEs should take note. He learned that "horrific dreams, as with horrific outer events, contain the energy of great transformation" (p. 37). For him it ushered in a fall from grace, which he de fines as what occurs when a person deviates significantly "from any image held to be normal or acceptable by a perceived authority figure" (p. 38). Thus, any EHE, if taken seriously, by definition is experienced as a fall from grace even if it offers a blessing. Because a "fall" results in feelings of rejection and abandonment, many people repress or deny their exceptional experiences.

When the Fall from Grace occurs, the previous stage or sense of self must be sacrificed in order for one to embrace the next possibility. ... We can pass through a Fall unconsciously or consciously, with immaturity or with maturity. The main difference in terms of our relationship to it is whether we experience the pain and the ecstasy as defeat or as unfoldment and liberation. (p. 60)

He describes his discovery that he (and we) have many selves living in the same body, often unknown to the "ordinary" self; some may be a collection of selves or one with a collective unconscious shared by all. In his case, a feminine self is a healer and another a dream interpreter, sometimes calling on information that has not been presented in conversation.

In the important fourth chapter, Joy elaborates on seven methods of induction into expanded consciousness, during which a person is altered in fundamental ways and access as new and profound interior resources. Operating on the wisdom that one needs a provisional map to explore new spiritual territory, he provides a meditation ritual for entering a sacred temple and also discusses entering forms of collective consciousness. A chapter is devoted to "induction through ritual, rites of passage, and crisis," which includes a detailed description of how to conduct and participate in a circle of healing.

The next chapter deals with the primordial patterns in which our lives are immersed. He points out that through these patterns "Life lives us. We do not live life!" (p. 155). Only by self-realization can we at least be aware of the ongoing process and discover that we are the Liver as well as the Lived. He believes that psychics, fortune-tellers, and seers tune into one of these patterns, but they also can pick up specific information by unknown means. He discusses creativity in terms of patterns, and the necessityùfor self-realizationùnot to be wholly a slave to any pattern, no matter how "right" it seems.

In three lucid chapters (8-10), he succinctly describes the approaches to the unconscious. He distinguishes between those available to the ordinary mind (first observed by Freud), such as dreams, slips of the tongue, doing the opposite of what one intends, repetitive experiences, etc., and the approaches that are enlivened once one is awakened to the nonordinary mind, which he calls transcendent experiences (i.e., EHEs), which occur in crisis or through the ways of inducing the higher states of consciousness already described in brief.

He stresses the importance of a stabilizing image to hold to, "a focal point of integration and well-being, no matter what forces may be encountered" (p. 230), whether from without or within. However, he does not advocate traditional images but calls for "the ability of Life to live through us and present to us the sacred image of the future, one that will stabilize the new order of our existence" (p. 327). (This, I believe, is one of the possibilities each EHE holds out to usùan opportunity to work with it to discern its meaning, or, in effect, to disclose a meaningful pattern for our unique life, together with meaningful phrases and symbols, best suited to carry us on our journey to global self-knowledge).

Perhaps the most startling chapter is one in which he treats three key Bible stories as if they were dreams relating to Western views of sexuality and spirituality: Adam and Eve, Moses and the Golden Calf, and the Virgin Birth. He points to further stages of growth into an embodied spiritualityùor a spiritualized sexuality.

There is a rich and unique chapter on Elderhood, or "a transcendent, collective dimension of Beinghood which requires that one leave the ordinary sense of self ... and enter the sublimity of a far grander state of being" (p. 303). (In essence, it is the state or paradigm that all EHEs collectively point to.) Joy expresses in a few words what I have tried to say in many: "The mystery of Life makes all of us part of the whole, and the whole is transcendently part of each one of us" (p. 305). He makes it clear that the "whole" includes everyone and everything that has lived as well as the cosmos.

He closes with an extensive six-part meditation for achieving the fullest state, which he calls PRESENCE (his emphasis). Even to contemplate this meditation is awesome! Though lengthy and detailed and (necessarily) repetitive, it is simple, structured, yet open-ended. Outstanding.

For anyone interested in exceptional human experiences and their personal, collective, and cosmic meaning, Avalanche is not to be missed. Joy himself feels the biggest lesson for him was to learn the necessity of integrating the "dark, the demonic, and the destructive" (p. 331). EHEs are about meeting the self that is All Things. May nothing remain without.

I have rarely come away from a book about spirituality (and I have read many thousands) with such a feeling that here is an author who knows whereof he writes. Joy is integrally immersed in his own growth process, which at his stage is our growth process as well, and this process no doubt will carry him to new heights and depths, within and without, as he spirals onward. I hope eventually he will grow into another book and that I will be around to read it.

Rhea A. White, Director
Exceptional Human Experience Network

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