Stanley Krippner, PhD
In 1971, Fred Swinney was told by his physician that he had, at most, three
years to live. He suffered from hypertension, heart disease, ulcers,
and hypoglycemia. Seeing a connection between his weakened physical
condition and his job pressures as an engineer, Swinney entered psychotherapy.
This experience not only alleviated his physical problems, but prompted
him to enter a training program in Transactional Analysis. Swinney
received his license in Transactional Analysis in 1975 and began seeing
In 1976, Swinney was travelling by canoe to James Bay in the northern Ontario
wilderness. One night, he feel asleep before the smoldering fire
and had a dream in which animal predators emerged from the woods, tore
him apart, and devoured him. Waking in terror, Swinney opened his
eyes and stared at the coals. Just beyond, he could discern two yellow-green
eyes and the shadowy form of a wolf. Much to his surprise, Swinney
experienced total surrender instead of fear. he stared at the wolf,
the worlf appeared to stare back, and Swinney felt a oneness with all that
Eventually the wolf slipped back into the forest, but Swinney still felt
its presence in his mind and body. He realized that in some strange
way he had become a wolf. Having been devoured in his dream,
he had been reborn a wolf upon awakening. A few weeks later, Swinney
left the wilderness and returned to his family and clients. He attempted
to forget the episode since it had been remarkably different than anything
he had previously experienced. Swinney completed his Master's degree
in 1980 and avoided any activity that would again evoke his wolflike nature.
Five years after, during a group therapy session held while fire was flickering
in Swinney's fireplace, one of his clients expressed extreme anger.
Suddenly, Swinney had a mental image of Libra, the Greek goddess of justice,
holding her balanced scales. He asked his client if she could relate
to this image. The woman erupted with emotion, telling the group
how, during her childhood, her mother had tried to treat her and her sister
equally. When the client did not experience this fairness in later
life, it upset her and she could not cope with other people very well.
Upon working through her memories of her early experiences and subsequent
expectations, the client was able to accept the inequities in her relationships.
Eventually, she was able to terminate therapy.
Swinney realized that his evocation of the image resembled his experience
with the wolf. Similar episodes occurred. Invariably, Swinney's
images, hunches, and insights were of great value to his clients.
Swinney realized that the wolf had returned and had demonstrated the way
in which it could be of assistance, even in civilization.
Swinney resolved to learn more about wolves and was surprised to read that
in all probability the wolf he had seen in Canada would not have attacked
him as he slept before his fire. Two friends gave him books about
wolves even though they knew nothing about his resolution or his experience
in the forest. Swinney's readings also yielded information about
shamans and how they frequently dream about being devoured and reborn during
their initiation and training.
Swinney also learned that shamans were the world's first psychotherapists.
Shamans often claim to have animal "guides" that assist their work with
clients, and often report feelings of unity with their surroundings.
After five years of running away from his inner wolf, Swinney again surrendered,
just as he had that night in the woods before the coals of his campfire.
He took the name "Graywolf" and introduced elements from shamanism into
his work as a psychotherapist. Graywolf used rituals and ceremonies
with his clients, both in individual and group sessions. He looked
for mythic themes, animal "guides," and spiritual symbols in his clients'
dreams. He made use of guided imagery sessions and had clients carve,
draw, mold, or paint those images that seemed to possess healing qualities.
He encouraged body awareness through breathing exercises, dance, and movement.
Graywolf had shared these experiences with me when we first met.
We saw each other again in 1984 at the annual meeting of the Association
for Humanistic Psychology near Boston. I was scheduled to give a
presentation on shmanism with a colleague who was flying in from out of
town. My colleague's flight was delayed; thus I asked Graywolf to
take his place. Graywolf told his story to a group of several hundred
people and led them in some breathing and imagery exercises that he had
found useful with his clients. Graywolf's comments were very well
received and he felt positive about sharing his private experiences with
a large group of interested people.
Since that time, Graywolf has shared his experiences with thousands of
individuals and dozens of groups. In addition, he has moved from
Western psychotherapy to native shamanism to the dreamhealing tradition
of ancient Greece and Rome. But this is hardly a step backwards,
as he has combined this with chaos theory, arguably one of the most vital
models of the upcoming 21st century.
Chaos theory is the branch of mathematics for the study of processes that
seem so complex that at first they do not appear to be governed by any
known laws or principles, but which actually have an underlying order that
can be described by vector calculus and its associated geometry.
Examples of chaotic processes include a stream of rising smoke that breaks
down and becomes turbulent, water flowing in a stream or crashing at the
bottom of a waterfall, electroencephalographic activity of the brain, changes
in animal populations, fluctuations on the stock exchange, and the weather
-- either local or global. All of these phenomena involve the interaction
of several elements and the pattern of their changes over time.
The rate of change of each of the variables or elements involved depends
on the other variables, and the rules of the rate of change must be nonlinear
for the chaotic temporal patterns to occur. When basic processes
of systems are connected interactively, they are called "dynamical systems,"
which is the parent branch of mathematics of which chaos theory is a subdiscipline.
Classical chaos theory deals with a calculus of infinite duration and resolution
which, of course, may or may not exist in the actual world, but is beyond
the resolution of our knowledge of the actual world. Thus, in the
mathematical models of chaos one encounters "sensitivity to initial conditions"
where even the smallest difference in initial conditions can lead to a
large difference in position later on within a chaotic attractor.
Therefore, since our knowledge of initial conditions is never exact but
bound to inexact observation, our prediction into the future is limited,
more so the further into the future we try to predict. Until recently,
it was presumed that chaotic systems, like classical linear systems, tended
toward stable equilibrium (fixed point) or period attractors and that the
erratic behavior found in actuality resulted from unidentified variables
not yet detected.
For example, researchers believed that the weather would be predictable
if it were somehow possible to gather enough information about all relevant
variables. Precision about knowledge thus derives not from insufficient
information about the number of processes involved which could be very
few to describe very complex chaotic attractors, but from the complexity
of their interaction plus the imprecision concerning our measurement information
at some arbitrary starting time about the exact state of the system.
Our useful knowledge of the system, which is very orderly and deterministic,
concerns its behavioral characteristics, i.e. the features of the attractor,
rather than making an exact prediction of its future state at an exact
Geometric patterns with repetitive self-similar features have been called
"fractals" because of their fractional dimension, and because of the sheer
beauty of these forms. Many chaotic attractors display fractals when
sliced, like opening an orange. Thus, fractal dimensions are one
of the many numerical properties used to characterize chaotic attractors
along with measures of the simultaneously convergent and divergent characteristics
which have led many to characterize chaotic attractors as like the stretching
and folding of bread dough or taffy. Rapid Eye Movement sleep (the
period of the sleep cycle from which most dream reports emerge) could be
chaotic in nature and contain this type of attractor.
Graywolf grounds his work in chaos theory, but he also claims roots in
the ancient Asklepian temples. Here it was the dream experience itself,
not the interpretation of the dream, that was felt to heal pilgrims.
One of Graywolf's contributions to the field of dreamworking is his facilitation
of a healing effect directly from the dream process itself. His client's
dream experiences are just as carefully nurtured as those provided by the
Greek and Roman priests; Graywolf's contrivances range from dream incubation
to white river rafting! Graywolf claims that in some cases only one
such intense event may be necessary to produce a lasting positive change
in a client's life. Before dismissing this possibility as wishful
thinking or self-deception, one should consider that a single traumatic
event can have devastating effects; the power of recovery can certainly
be as forceful as the tumult of trauma. In addition, one needs to
examine Graywolf's 8-step process that encompasses this life-changing event,
steps that range from "the pilgrimage" to "the re-entry."
Graywolf's Creative Consciousness Process is based on a unique model of
the human psyche, and can provide a roadmap for the tribal shaman as well
as the dreamhealer. Both frequently travel into the mythic underworld
to find and retrieve the lost souls of their clients. I have seen
contemporary shamans make this perilous journey on behalf of a person whose
soul has been absconded by the forces of addiction, depression, or life-threatening
accidents. Sometimes, the soul must be persuaded to return; at other
times it does not know it is lost and must be informed; and on still other
occasions the soul is held captive by the spirits of cocaine, heroin, alcohol,
or other seductive substances. Most contemporary psychotherapists
dismiss the concept of "soul" as superstitious, yet they do so at their
peril. They may treat their clients' bodies, feelings, and intellects,
but may never restore wholeness to them unless they explore the spiritual
dimension of the psyche.
In Graywolf's model, the shaman/dreamhealer and his or her client emerge
from the depths of the psyche through various development levels, beginning
with conception and ending with behavior. The lost soul has been
found, retrieved, and revitalized, and this new wholeness is reflected
in the client's daily activities. The source of dreams, according
to Graywolf, is located at primal levels of the psyche as the brain experiences
itself during sleep. Like the fractals of chaos theory, brain centers
undulate through cycles of firing and rest, processing both externally-generated
and internally-generated input, shaping plots and narratives, creating
symbols and metaphors. Once more, order is generated from chaos.
Another one of Graywolf's contributions is to find the genesis of the Creative
Consciousness Process in evolutionary theory and ecological psychology.
Rapid Eye Movement sleep probably served an evolutionary function as small
mammals formulated strategies of survival during sleep, checking them against
the memories of their daily experience. This was the beginning of
the brain's capacity to create stories from the morass of internally-evoked
images during the night -- stories that would often become cultural and
personal myths, themselves important determinants of social survival.
In our time, as Earth itself struggles to survive the onslaught of human
exploitation, the Creative Consciousness process sees its task as reminding
individuals and groups of their connection to the rest of Nature, and to
awaken them to the fact that the very survival of humankind may rest on
honoring this connection, not severing it still further.
Tribal shamans recognized the ecology of consciousness; their techniques
often were chaotic yet the disorder produced through drumming, dancing,
and mind-altering plants induced shifts in consciousness that led to a
new order that could be both healing and life-enhancing. I have participated
in sweat lodge rites, drumming ceremonies, and dancing rituals where the
heat was so intense, the music was so overwhelming, and the movement so
exhausting that the only way to stay with the process was to shift into
a state of consciousness where my ordinary limitations were expanded or
transcended. Again, order can emerge from chaos; today's shaman/dreamhealer
takes advantage of this knowledge.
Graywolf has facilitated numerous hero's and heroine's journeys for his
clients over the past several years, encouraging their departure, validating
their discoveries, and celebrating their return. They realize at
profoundly deep levels of the psyche where their growth has been stalemated
and how flow can be restored. By providing sacred internal and external
sites for this change to occur, Graywolf has revived the dreamhealing tradition.
Asklepios would be pleased.