Just as a seed contains the blueprint for the life of a plant, the creation story of a human has a profound influence on their life. According to the father of Transpersonal Psychology, Stanislav Grof you are probably more effected by your birth experience than you realize. Grof’s perspective is supported by leading research in the field of pre and perinatal psychology. There is a biological matrix of emotional imprints and patterns that can often be traced back to your very emergence into this world. Grof refers to these as Basic Perinatal Matrices (BPM), and understanding them can reveal a whole lot about you as well as providing a great framework for releasing old patterns, healing, and personal growth.
Transpersonal Psychology might loosely be called the psychology of spirituality and of those areas of the human mind which search for higher meanings in life, and which move beyond the limited boundaries of the ego to access an enhanced capacity for wisdom, creativity, unconditional love and compassion.
– British Psychological Society, Shamanism and Spirituality in Therapeutic Practice
Healing is a personal journey that we undertake as individuals but the patterns we are healing are often intergenerational, stretching back to before we were born. On a biological level, it is amazing to consider that the egg which became you was literally carried by your grandmother; since your mother developed her eggs while she was a fetus inside her mother’s womb. Coping mechanisms, stress patterns, family system patterns, as well as social and economic environments through those generations have left imprints on us that we are still sorting through. The beautiful thing about approaching healing from this perspective is that our own personal healing also brings resolution to our greater network of relations moving forward and backward in time.
According to modern research, the most potent of these imprints occur while we are in the womb and during the first few years after we are born. In Violence is a Preventable Brain Disorder we explored the profound work of Robin Grille, which covers brain development in the first few years of life. The Basic Perinatal Matrices (BPM) as defined by Stanislav Grof are divided into four distinct phases of childbirth, and these specific stages of a natural delivery have life-long influences on our emotional lives and experience of reality.
Western Science is approaching a paradigm shift of unprecedented proportions, one that will change our concepts of reality and of human nature, bridge the gap between ancient wisdom and modern science, and reconcile the differences between Eastern spirituality and Western pragmatism.
– Stan Grof from Beyond the Brain
In order to understand the logic behind this research we need to look at what Grof calls “Condensed Experience Systems” or COEX. An example of this concept would be how when in conversation someone brings up a funny story, everyone else in the conversation starts to laugh; which causes them to remember their own funny stories too. When we do this for any kind of emotionally potent memory (happy, sad, scary, traumatic etc.) we easily start recalling memories of all the other times we had similar experiences that elicited those same feelings. The research is based on the premise that our feelings and the stories associated with these experiences are closely bundled together in our psyche. Grof began looking for the root experience, the very first time we may have felt these feelings; identifying these experiences provides a cohesive lineage or a “storyline” for emotional and psychological patterns.
In direct recapitulation, we unconsciously attract, or are attracted to specific situations and/or people who recreate the exact dynamic of the original trauma towards us. For example, if we experienced intense pressure during birth that was overwhelming, we may directly recapitulate this by constantly putting ourselves in relationships and work environments where we feel consistently pressurized and overwhelmed. -Enhancing the Future
Our emotional brains are developed long before our rational, language-brains, so many of these patterns have roots that go back to being in the womb, and our birth experience. As Grof identified these four primary stages he also began to notice archetypal correlations for each of the stages, and patterns of how they relate to our emotional lives.
The first stage – The Amniotic Universe
BPM I is the phase of the fetus floating within the womb in a timeless state. Depending on the emotional and physical health of the mother, environment and diet, this can be a pleasant or unpleasant experience.
- Positive experiences of this stage are associated with a sense of oneness, timelessness, mystery, transcendence, and samadhi.
- Negative experiences of this stage are associated with a sense of ungroundedness and disengagement from life .
The second phase – The Cosmic Oppression
BPM II is the phase where the womb begins closing in, compressing us and pushing us towards the birth canal. Since we are no longer floating, this phase is the first time we begin to notice the motion of time along with the contrast between spaciousness and compression, the beginning of duality. Hormonal changes include a reduction of oxygen and the pressure of contractions against the closed cervix.
- Positive experiences of this stage are associated with excitement about a new prospect or integration of new information or wisdom.
- Negative experiences of this stage are associated with a sense of impending crisis, or fear or resistance to new developments in your life.
The third phase – The Struggle Death-Rebirth
BPM III is when we actually enter the birth canal. This increased stress or compression is associated with struggle and reaching for the light at the end of the tunnel.
- A positive experience of this stage is the flowstate — being “in the zone” — where you are taking care of things as they come up almost automatically. You are engaged in your tasks at peak efficiency.
- A negative experience of this stage is feeling squeezed or even crushed by life’s circumstances, or being overwhelmed by competing in your life demands.
The fourth phase – The Experience Death-Rebirth
BPM IV is our emergence from the birth canal into the world.
- The baby exists the birth canal, the birth process completes, and life begins. This stage is associated with release, joy, ease, and most importantly, freedom.
Each of these phases literally represent our own personal creation story, so it is no surprise how deeply they can influence us for the duration of our lives. However this is not a life sentence because our relationship with these memories, when made conscious, can be empowering regardless of our varied positive/negative experiences. This is a brief overview, but for a more in depth exploration of the basic perinatal matrices, you can download a very informative pdf with pictures and more here.
If this information resonates with you and you are wondering what you can do to bring healing or resolve to these underlying feelings, you are not alone. It is important to welcome even the negative aspects of your story with love, non-judgement, and compassion. These are the energies that helped you form, you are not a victim, you are a powerful being here to evolve and transmute these emotions. Being able to accept and understand this from a larger perspective will allow you to “make friends” with your own process. Knowing that each phase gives way to the next and we continue to cycle through them during all of our life’s transitions allows us to relax and “breathe through the contractions”.
This exciting journey of discovery can lead to a deepened sense of connection with one’s self and it can also open a beautiful dialogue with your family. Conversations with parents, or children about this potent phase of life can strengthen connection, compassion, and a shared sense that we are all here to heal things that have been passed down through the generations. As we each do this individually we help everyone around us evolve and heal making our lives as transpersonal beings rich and beautiful!
We all know what it feels like to be overwhelmed with various emotional states, by recognizing these realms as biological matrices we will be more empowered to navigate them with grace. This is paramount to creating the life you dream of. The best thing about being caught in a perinatal matrix is consciously liberating ourselves from it!
FEATURE IMAGE: Detail of Embryo by Alex Grey
. . .probably more [affected] by your birth experience . . .
My youngest was a rare kneeling breech. After being stuck for hours I was rushed in for emergency cesarean and landed up going going g under general anesthesia.
HE has hyperactivity and low self esteem, I always wondered if it was because for the last part of my pregnancy he was stuck in a position he couldn’t get out of.
When the author said the child is moving to the light when moving into the birth canal, I began to equate it with dying to this world and being born into the spiritual world. Thank you for the article
I relived my birth experience once under the influence of LSD. It was unmistakable. I was dreaming in the womb. I knew I was going somewhere, through a tunnel. There was no pressure. As I was born I saw 3 people standing looking at me. Then came the traumatic part: Air! Dry, invasive, harsh, uncomfortable, right into the pores of my skin. I can still remember the sensation
Our “memories” must be deep in the amygdala. My mother’s pregnancy was difficult….3 labours that came and went over 3 weeks and then she died at my birth. I often wonder what effects they have had, I’ve had plenty of nature/nurture stuff to unravel over my life.
What about birth by C-section?
Interesting idea. I don’t believe ANYONE remembers their birth, and if you are claiming you do, well I think you want to believe you do. I do believe we’re intuitive by nature, some of us more than others, and i also believe it’s possible to have the emotions deep within us that we may have felt during birth and prebirth, but actual memory, nope.
i was a breach baby born vaginally and I remember it. Sometimes I dream about it. I was afraid and would not do my part. Someone was telling me it would be okay but I was too afraid. I couldn’t “breath” well and I didn’t want to try. The voice said just go ahead but I would not. I feared more constriction. Then I was pulled out.
I can’t identify with Matix 4, there is no thought given to a ‘bad’ immediate post birth experience, which applies to babies who need to receive surgery immediately following birth. Such an experience impacts hugely on the perception of reward for effort, i.e. the investment of ‘work’ and stress during birth will feel like something has been achieved initially only, BUT bottom line is there is torture waiting in the sidelines and this is not what the baby ‘signed up for’. Particularly when the baby has to then be in an ICU in isolation this matrix 4 will no longer be experienced as freedom but as punishment and will impact on motivation to invest. Please comment. Many thanks.
As a midwife who has been at many loving births I Grof BPM3 is inadequate and negative!!
I think I remember birth and before, and possibly conception…