Not too long ago, I had a dream in which I was in a large Victorian mansion that had many floors and many rooms on each of the floors. I was running from floor to floor, going in and out of the rooms. I then passed a room that was on a landing, next to a flight of stairs. This room was padlocked, chained to let out any intruders. A voice then said to me, “This room contains the secrets of your psyche. No one is allowed to enter, including you.”
This dream had a little bit of an edge to it, as though it was a scene from a horror movie. But the image stood clear in my mind the next morning as I woke up and clearly remembered it and wondered about its meaning.
I’ve always been a more closed person, not comfortable talking about my deepest feelings, and desirous of pushing my deeper angst well under the rug. So here I was confronted by it in my dream. But I was curious to find out what was behind the door.
A day or so later I lay on my bed and allowed my mind to take me back into that house. The imagery appeared in my mind and I was transplanted back to that place. I approached the door, turned the doorknob and the door opened. There was a lot of fire and I jumped through it. At that point I just started falling through space. I continued to fall – or perhaps it was floating. I got the sense that I was now outside the boundaries of space-time and that I had entered another dimension, one that some call the dreamtime.
That was the extent of my imagery. The sense I got was that in entering the land of my subconscious, I was going beyond the linear, rational world into another world, a world of nonordinary reality, one where the normal boundaries of physical laws are altered. I got the sense that this world bordered on the infinite and that there was neither a beginning nor end to its depth. It was just emptiness and I was floating through it.
Dreams of Butterflies
There is a famous story about the legendary Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu once dreaming he was a butterfly. As he writes:
Once I, Chuang Chou, dreamed I was a butterfly and was happy as a butterfly. I was conscious that I was quite pleased with myself, but I did not know that I was Chou. Suddenly I awoke, and there I was, visibly Chou. I do not know whether it was Chou dreaming that he was a butterfly or the butterfly dreaming that it was Chou (Chan, 1963, p. 190).
Chuang Tzu was wondering whether in his life he dreamed of himself being a butterfly; or was it that his life was the dream of a butterfly? Either way, as you ponder his story, you come to the awareness that at a certain level of human existence there is a blurring of the line between our everyday world of reality and the realm of nonordinary reality.
How readily accessible is this nonordinary realm? It is possible to spend one’s entire lifetime without ever experiencing these realms or even without being aware of their existence (Grof, 1994, p. 5). Ken Wilber calls a reality that ignores the existence of inner realms as the world of “Flatland.” He defines flatland as the worldview that has the idea that “sensory and empirical and material is the only world there is – there are no higher or deeper potentials and what we see with our senses is what there is” (Wilber, 1996, p. 11). Sad to say, this is the worldview of the great majority of Westerners.
A fundamental tenet of traditional cultures is the knowledge of these inner realms. The Huichol believe there is a portal between the ordinary and nonordinary worlds. They call this portal the Nierika. It is considered both a passageway and barrier between worlds, and usually remains hidden and secret until the time of death (Prem Das, cited in Halifax, 1979, p. 1).
Death is considered one of the primary ways that people learn of the nonordinary realms. Ancient books of the dead are actually maps of the inner territories of the psyche encountered in profound nonordinary states of consciousness; included in those states are those associated with biological dying (Grof, 1994, p. 5).
The greatest proof we have of the relationship between nonordinary states of consciousness and biological dying is research with people who have had near-death experiences. The most profound of these experiences occur to those who for a few moments actually clinically die and have an experience of going out of their body. Research has shown that these people go through an event with transcendental and mystical elements (Greyson, in Cardena, Lynn and Krippner, 2000, p. 315). Elements that are common to the near-death experience are (Greyson, in Cardena, Lynn and Krippner, 2000, p. 318):
- Feelings of peace and quiet
- Hearing unusual noises
- Seeing a dark tunnel
- Being out of the body
- Meeting spiritual beings
- Experiencing a bright light as a being of light
- Panoramic life review
- Experiencing a realm in which all knowledge exists
- Experiencing cities of light
- Experiencing a realm of bewildered spirits
- Experiencing a supernatural rescue
- Sensing a border or limit
For some Westerners who undergo this experience the return to ordinary reality can have dramatic repercussions. These include long-term depression, broken relationships, disrupted careers, feelings of severe alienation, an inability to function in the world, long years of struggling with a keen sense of altered reality, and a divorce rate as high as 75% (Greyson, in Cardena, Lynn and Krippner, 2000, p. 329).
I would venture to say that the reason some of the experients go through this is that our Western culture does not encourage the exploration of the inner transcendent realms, and thus many of these people return to a world that they feel they no longer can fit into.
A few months ago I almost drowned and went through my own near-death experience. The day after my experience I had a business luncheon with a lawyer friend of mine. Because we had tried for months to get together, I did not want to cancel the lunch. I went through with it; I did not tell him a word about my recent experience, as it seemed inappropriate. The entire lunch seemed somewhat surreal, although I carried myself normally and I’m sure from his perspective nothing seemed amiss.
Because my wife and other people in my support network share similar values with myself, I was able to share with them what I was going through over the next few weeks. This helped immensely as I processed my experience and helped to ground me, allowing me to function normally. Because of the assistance of everyone in my support network, I don’t believe I will go through the repercussions that were described above.
Because Western culture doesn’t have a paradigm that enables the transcendent experience to be synthesized into everyday life, it has to be shocking to those who involuntarily are pushed into that realm, as happens to those who undergo a near-death experience.
Westerners do not fully understand the realm of the psyche, the soul or the transcendent; to many it is a deep, dark chasm that is best maintained with a padlock. It is better to sweep it under the rug, to not delve into it and understand it. It may rear its head in dreams, but because Westerners are not sensitized to their dreams, it will be quickly discarded.
Many traditional cultures look to their dreams for guidance, to help them shape the lives of their people. Central to the practices of many traditional cultures is the pre-dawn ritual of dream sharing. Dreams are shared and used by the entire community and individuals dream not only for themselves but also for the community as a whole. In their dreams they will find access to forces that are not revealed in everyday awareness. They believe that something akin to a soul-body leaves their physical body to travel within a parallel world (Schlitz, 1998, p. 1).
Traditional cultures use their dreams to develop both individually and collectively, whereas Westerners have no similar protocol, as the dreams of Westerners don’t develop with age; instead their dreams stay at the level of a child (Wellman and Halonen, 1998). One member of an Amazon tribe said about Westerners, “I didn’t know people in the north dreamed” (Schlitz, 1998, p. 4).
And to traditional cultures, it is understood that people are not the only ones who dream. The Bugi, who have inhabited the coasts of Sulawesi since before recorded time, sail in large wooden-hulled schooners with enormous black sails. These ships are called prahu. Prahus have no motors, navigational equipment, nor modern technology of any kind, yet they sail great distances. Their belief is that every prahu has a dream and that this dream exists before the ship is built. The prahu builders will enter the dream of the prahu to see where it will sail and what storms it will encounter, so they know how to focus their work and what parts of the prahu will need special attention (Perkins, 1997, p. 47-48).
Westerners consider the waking state the only reality and dreams to be unreal and unimportant. Traditional cultures believe the dream state to have greater potential for understanding and spiritual progress than the so-called waking state, and both states to be equally real or unreal (LaBerge and Gackenbach, in Cardena, Lynn and Krippner, 2000, p. 175).
In Tibetan Buddhism there is a form of yoga called Tibetan dream yoga. It consists of four stages (Laberge and Gackenbach, in Cardena, Lynn and Krippner, 2000, p. 175):
- Comprehending the nature of the dream (i.e., that it is a dream and thus, a construction of the mind)
- Practicing the transformation of dream content until one experientially understands that all of the contents of dreaming consciousness can be changed by will and that dreams are essentially unstable
- Realizing that the sensory experiences of waking consciousness are just as illusory as dreams and that, in a sense, “it’s all a dream.”
- Meditating on the “thatness” of the dream state, which results in union with a “clear light.”
Within Western society there are certain precepts, which we can call metaphysical foundations. These are assumptions of the way the world operates that are based not on research or scientific theory, yet are neither articulated nor brought into question during the course of modern research. These assumptions do not reside within the material world as such, nor can they be proven by empirical experiments, but they form the ground out of which all our conceptual ideas about the physical world reside (Clark, in Harman and Clark, 1994, p. x). Like Wilber’s Flatland, these metaphysical foundations are based on the premise that if you can’t experience it with your senses, it doesn’t exist.
The most important of the metaphysical foundations are objectivism, positivism and reductionism (Harman, in Harman and Clark, 1994, p. 8). These lead to the assumption of logical empiricism, which is the belief in the premise that the basic stuff of the universe is what physicists study: namely, matter and physical energy – ultimately, “fundamental particles,” their associated fields and interrelationships (Harman, in Harman and Clark, 1994, p. 8).
Yet as science studies things large and small, from the depths of the submicroscopic to the infinite expanse of the cosmos (and everything in between), there are areas that do not easily fit into these metaphysical assumptions. These are such concepts as non-local causality, self-organizing systems, nonlinear dynamics, turbulence, consciousness, synchronicity, superpositioning, and more. There is even some evidence that the speed of light is capable of going faster than what Einstein has postulated to be an absolute (Glanz, 2000, p. 1).
Some would point to all these areas as anomalies, statistical warts that fall outside the normal purview. But the reality is that these so-called anomalies are not so much demonstrations of shortfalls in our knowledge of mechanisms as much as indicators of the inadequacy of the present day scientific approach and the metaphysical foundations and principles it adheres to.
The Incorporation of Quantum Thought
When we extend our borders of everyday reality to include quantum thought, much of the anomalous areas then begin to make sense and can be explained through scientific terms. Science can then be used to help us probe deeper, to question, to analyze, to criticize, to synthesize. Instead of a science that thinks in an exclusionary manner, quick to dismiss that which doesn’t fit into its narrow paradigm, we can have a science that can think in an inclusive manner, that can help to explain things which seem to be beyond comprehension.
Zombies. For instance, in the country of Haiti, in the year 1962, a man by the name of Clairvius Narcisse died. Eighteen years later, in 1980, Narcisse was found walking in a marketplace, claiming to be a zombie. There was no doubt that he had died, nor was there any doubt that he was who he said he was. Because of the publicity surrounding Narcisse, other Haitians surfaced with similar tales, also claiming to be zombies.
Scientists from the U.S. researched the matter and determined that Voodoo priests and sorcerers created herbal decoctions that could paralyze a person’s central nervous system; after the person was buried the priest would come and give them the antidote, which would revive them, yet keep them in a drugged state. The priest then would give periodic doses of the decoction to the person to maintain the drugged state. Thus the person perceived of themselves as zombies, controlled by someone they considered being their master (Nardo and Belgum, 1991).
360 degrees. Not all scenarios can be explained so readily; yet there can still be open-minded scientific discussions on them. As long as science starts with the assumption that reality goes far beyond our senses, then our metaphysical foundations can be much broader. With the understandings of superpositioning, coherence and decoherence, non-local causality, and nonlinear dynamics, the scope, depth and breadth of science can virtually cover all areas considered anomalous.
What these modern sciences tell us is that true reality exhibits a 360-degree nature. What this means is that reality exists twofold: both in a linear fashion, neatly laid out from past to present to future; and in a nonlinear fashion, with the past, present and future all around us, occurring at all times, in many dimensions.
Superpositioning has shown us that in the quantum realm, electrons exist in all possible states at all times and communicate to one another about their positions. Although in our macroscopic world the electron takes just one position of density, the communication continues, non-locally, between the electrons of the macroscopic world and the quantum world.
The electrons of the quantum world inform the electrons of the macroscopic world that it is possible to continue to move and be in many places at once. Gravity and thermodynamics offset this information by informing the macroscopic electrons that they cannot move and that they are dense and absolute. Yet what the macroscopic electrons do, in its attempt to mirror the quantum electrons, is follow a path of nonlinear dynamics, of creating fractals and strange attractors. In this way, the electrons of our everyday world open the floodgates of uncertainty, to show that even in our everyday reality there are movements that happen that are beyond linear mathematical formulation. Thus, all around us, at all times, exists a world of each and every possibility.
Electrons talk in an indigenous language of wavelengths and frequencies in the superpositioned state. And as I said above, the communication continues even when electrons transition into density. The ability for electrons to communicate across boundaries of space and time is considered non-local causality.
Even consciousness follows these rules. It is a quantum system that decoheres into density. Each of us has our own mind, with its own level of consciousness – this is the result of quantum decoherence into density. At this level we experience ourselves as separate from others. Yet at the root of our individual consciousness is a non-local mind, a universal consciousness, in which our thoughts are ultimately connected into a universal mind. It is most probable that the electrons of local and non-local consciousness, or individual and universal mind, communicate in the same indigenous language as all other electrons. As physicist Arthur Eddington said, “The stuff of the world is mind-stuff…The mind-stuff is not spread in space and time…Recognizing that the physical world is entirely abstract and without ‘actuality’ apart from its linkage to consciousness, we restore consciousness to the fundamental position” (Wald, in Harman and Clark, 1994, p. 130).
Once we understand this basic concept, that the mind and consciousness transcend normal boundaries and spread beyond four-dimensional space-time, we can begin to understand more fully the world of the mystic, the world of nonordinary reality and the world of the shaman. Traditional cultures, unencumbered by the weightiness of analytical thinking, have always accepted these worlds. Westerners are just coming around.
Yet at the same time, taking these traditional worldviews and synthesizing them with progressive scientific thinking can only bode well for all. We can start to get a better understanding of how the shaman operates and how he or she effects a cure.
I have undergone shamanic journeying and have been awed by the insights gained from them. Are my insights mere fragments from a fertile imagination? I don’t think so. I tend to believe that I am tapping into the larger universal field of consciousness. All it takes to reach into that field is a shifting of the mind.
The shifting of the mind in shamanism and mysticism is generally achieved through some sort of trance ritual. Drumming, dancing, chanting, singing, meditating and other modalities are often used.
A Bar Mitzvah. I remember a few years ago, attending my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. As the service went on, the rabbi and his assistants started speaking faster and faster, repeating the same phrases over and over, building the energy in the room into a crescendo.
At a certain point, as they continued with their ritual, there was a certain shift in energy and consciousness. A few people sighed and started crying; I could feel in myself my heart opening up and a sense of lightness within. Shortly after, the ceremony ended and the rabbi declared my nephew to be blessed.
Excitation of electrons
I believe that ceremony was a trance ritual. It worked up to a feverish pitch whereby the energy in the room palpably shifted. I have speculated that what they did was excite the vibrations of the electrons in the room until they were moving at a rate that allowed them to resonate more effectively with the quantum state. Since the quantum state is akin to the state of Spirit, in essence through the ritual they were able to make us closely connected to Spirit; or perhaps for a moment we became Spirit.
Perhaps this is the key to entering nonordinary states of reality. If one excites their electrons in whatever way one deems appropriate, they will then be further aligned with the quantum world. By being aligned with the quantum world, they will transition from the world of everyday reality to the quantum world of nonordinary reality, a reality that exists everywhere and anywhere, at a panoramic setting of 360 degrees.
Technicians of the Sacred
The ability to enter a nonordinary reality is the hallmark of the mystic. A shaman fits into this definition of a mystic, for a shaman readily traverses through various worlds as a great specialist in the human soul (Eliade, 1972, p. 8). The path the shaman takes is first and foremost spiritual; they are technicians of the sacred (Achterberg, 1985, p. 12).
Shamanism is the oldest and most widespread method of healing with the imagination – over 20,000 years old (Achterberg, 1985, p. 15). Shamans induce a state of mind that transcends ordinary reality, allowing them to access inner intuitive wisdom and bring it back for the benefit of others (Neimark, 1993, p. 52).
The Lama as Shaman
In Tibetan Buddhism, the Lama is the shaman, the psychic healer and guide of souls. Reciting chants from ritual texts from the secret books of Guru Rinpoche, this allows the Lama to enter into an altered state of consciousness, leaving his body behind to seek passage into other worlds, the hidden lands. He returns with treasures of knowledge and power and thus is able to restore lost souls to wholeness (Rochlin, Spera and Standlee, 1985).
Maintaining a Foot in Both Worlds
Yet at the same time, just as quantum reality and everyday reality together form the entire panoramic view of reality; the shaman must keep a foot in both worlds to understand the fullness of human existence. The shamans who completely go off, who can’t keep operating in this world while they’re in an altered state, are considered fools or incompetents, or neophytes. The shamans in the Amazon who take ayahuasca and other extremely powerful hallucinogens can actually do surgery under the influence (Gray, p. 2).
Speaking of performing surgery while in an altered state (this reminds me of a story I was recently told by a retired nurse about doctors in the hospital she used to work in who performed surgery while inebriated), in Brazil there are people who perform what is called trance surgery. To perform surgery while in a trance state is a very concrete representation of maintaining a foot in both worlds. Within a manner of minutes, the surgeon (who is generally not someone trained in Western medicine or surgical techniques) goes into a trance state in which their body is used by a possessing spirit or intelligent entity as a vehicle for its own medical purposes. Healing skills supposedly unknown to the healer are manifested during trance behaviors. These trance surgeons usually perform no rituals; they work with their eyes open, conversing with those present.
One of the most incredible aspects of these phenomena is that the surgical instruments are not sterilized, nor are the patients anesthetized. Yet accounts of infection and inflammation are rare, and patients generally appear to experience little or no pain and minimal bleeding. And furthermore, many patients experience either temporary or permanent cures of their ailments (Don and Moura, 2000, pp. 43-44).
A trance surgeon who practices in England, a man by the name of Stephen Turoff, claims that his inspiration comes from the Indian mystic Sai Baba. Sai Baba is considered a “national treasure of India” and at age 13 declared himself an avatar, an incarnation of God on earth. He has performed many miracles, which he calls mere calling cards, toys and tricks to gain our interest and to demonstrate the illusion of our physical bodies and the material world to which we are all so attached (Solomon, 1997, pp. 96-97).
A psychiatrist who has witnessed Sai Baba first hand reports that Sai Baba has manifested objects out of thin air, resurrected the dead, and healed people of cancer. He writes, “there is no miracle known to humankind that Sai Baba has not performed” (Gersten, 1998, p. 59).
To the Westerner, these stories seem preposterous. There is just no way something like this can be true, as it eludes rational and linear common sense.
Phillip John Neimark is one person who can vouch for the illusion of rationality and the sanctity of the sacred. A white, Jewish middle-age businessman who lives in Chicago, he made his first million at the age of 30; now he is also a high priest, or babalawo, in the Ifa religion. As Neimark tells it, “I was totally committed to the Cartesian, Newtonian universe and I lived my life absolutely on that basis. If you couldn’t prove God, He didn’t exist. In fact, I militantly attacked and dismissed any other paradigm.” His antique Jaguar had a license plate bearing Aristotle’s empirical dictum, A is A (Neimark, 1993, p. 47).
Through a series of life and spiritual crises, Neimark found himself inducted into the Ifa religion and became a high priest of the religion. Now he says “I don’t care how you do it. I don’t care how anybody does it. Just connect to that divine energy. Otherwise you will not get out of this lifetime nearly what you should” (Neimark, 1993, p. 54).
As Phillip John Neimark has shown, one doesn’t have to be of a particular culture or background to live the life of the shaman or mystic. All it takes is an innate understanding that the world is full of Spirit, and that Spirit controls the invisible forces of nature.
Who knows the mysterious ways of the invisible forces that control our lives? This is what the shaman, the mystic and the forward thinking scientist are all trying to ascertain.
Achterberg, Jeanne (1985). Imagery in Healing: Shamanism and Modern Medicine. Boston: Shambhala.
I found this book to be an excellent bridge between the worlds of shamanism and traditional practices of medicine on the one hand and modern scientific concepts that are prevalent in mind-body medicine on the other. Achterberg’s main thesis is that shamanism is the medicine of the imagination, and then she builds her case from there, showing that the worlds of imagery as conceived by the shaman during his journey can be correlated to the inner realms visited by people during work in guided imagery.
Chan, Wing-Tsit (1963). A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Dr. Chan’s book is a very scholarly, well-researched compendium of all the various schools of Chinese philosophy and thought that developed and evolved over the countless thousands of years of Chinese society. He has also translated and included in this volume four books that stand out in the annals of Chinese thought: the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, the Lao Tzu, and the T’ung-shu. This is a book that any serious student of Chinese philosophy should have on their bookshelf.
Clark, Jane (1994). Forward. In Harman, Willis and Clark, Jane. New Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science. Sausalito: Institute of Noetic Sciences; pp. ix-xiii.
Jane Clark’s forward to the book Willis Harman and she edited helps set the tone for understanding the mindset of the various scientists who contributed to this volume. She discusses the genesis of this project – Harman’s discovery of a 1924 book by E. A. Burtt entitled The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science. Burtt deeply influenced Harman by hypothesizing that behind the methodology of science are assumptions that humans make, things taken for granted without questioning where the belief patterns stem from.
Das, Prem (1979). Cited in Halifax, Joan. Shamanic Voices. New York: Viking Penguin.
What I appreciated about Halifax’s book is that she created a volume that allowed the shamans to have their voices heard directly without filters. Instead of an objectively written anthropological text detailing the history, mythology and arcana of various traditional culture’s rites and rituals, Halifax, after a brief introductory first chapter, turns the book over to the various shamans. We hear from them, in their voices, telling us about their beliefs, visions, journeys, dreams, and prophecies. Some of these shamans are dead now, so in these pages we have their knowledge maintained for eternity. Halifax is to be commended for having collected the voices of the medicine healers from various cultures around the world.
Don, Norman S., and Moura, Gilda (July 2000). Trance surgery in Brazil. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 6, (4), pp. 39-48.
A few months ago I had watched a video on Reubens Faria, a Brazilian computer engineer who one day started channeling the spirit of Dr. Fritz, a German surgeon. From this point on, Faria began performing surgery on his fellow countrymen, using no anesthesia and no sterilization techniques. The techniques are crude, yet the results are outstanding. Faria was due to make a speaking tour this past summer around the U.S., but legal difficulties in his homeland forced the cancellation of the trip. Serendipitously for me, this article appeared in a recent edition of Alternative Therapies magazine. Written by a research psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist, this article is both an excellent overview of the phenomena of mediumship in Brazil and an examination of the authenticity of trance surgery. When forward-thinking scientists are willing to tackle mind-bending scenarios, everyone profits because the tendency for knee-jerk dismissal, which is common among those steeped in a strict biomedical ethic, is eliminated.
Eliade, Mircea (1964). Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Virtually every source of reading I did pertaining to shamanism kept referring to Eliade’s work, so I knew it was imperative that Eliade’s book be a core component of my study. A masterpiece of anthropological research, Eliade studied virtually every culture in which shamanism played a part, discussing their rites, rituals, initiations, cosmologies, obtaining of powers, and so on. Eliade also showed the many parallels among each of the various traditional cultures. Of particular historical interest to me was his discussion of the Asian shamans, and how it tied into Buddhism, Tantra, Hinduism and Taoism. When I was in acupuncture school, I had a class on the history of medicine, and I recall the teacher discussing briefly that shamanism was the forerunner of traditional Chinese medicine. Eliade’s research helped me to more fully understand this connection between shamanism and Chinese medicine. In fact, Eliade’s book allowed me to more clearly understand that medicine’s roots, whether traditional or biomedical, are founded in shamanic traditions.
Gersten, Dennis (April 1998). Holy madness in healing. Psychology Today. 31, (2), pp. 59-61.
Gersten is an author and psychiatrist in private practice in San Diego. Psychology Today wrote a brief forward to his article, stating that they didn’t know if what he was saying was the writing of a madman or someone who might be a little enlightened. Gersten says that the information on Sai Baba that he puts forth in the article was considered so controversial that his publisher took it out of a recent book. His main point is that as a psychiatrist and spiritual seeker, he attempts to look for the spark of God in every person. And he believes this is the future of psychiatry, to look for love, hope, faith and miracles; and that instead of offering Prozac, the psychiatrist should bring God into the office and offer miracles and spiritual ecstasy.
Glanz, James (May 30, 2000). Light exceeds its own speed limit, or does it? The New York Times.http:www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/053000sciphysics-light.html; pp. 1-5.
Glanz’ article discusses two recent experiments that have shown the possibility that light does move faster than 186,000 miles per second. Although the documented proof of non-local causality has already opened the door to this speculation, there has been no demonstrable proof in that regard. One of the experiments, by Lijun Wang of the NEC Research Institute in Princeton, NJ, found that a specially prepared pulse of light was able to travel at speeds up to 300 times the normal speeds of light. Glanz comments on these findings, “That is so fast that…the main part of the pulse exits the far side of the chamber even before it enters at the near side.” Incidentally, Glanz and George Johnson are the two science writers for The New York Times whose primary focus is physics. I look forward to every Tuesday’s edition of The Times to see if either of these excellent writers has their byline in the newspaper.
Greyson, Bruce (2000). Near-Death Experiences. In Cardena, Etzel, Lynn, Steven Jay, and Krippner, Stanley. The Varieties of Anomalous Experience. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; pp. 315-352.
This chapter discusses near-death experiences both from a subjective and objective viewpoint. Its subjective approach informs the reader what the near-death experience is like and the commons elements that occur amongst experients. Its objective discussion attempts to dissect a number of issues pertinent to experients. First, it looks at the aftereffects and how many of these people had their attitudes, beliefs and values permanently changed. Next the personality profile of experients were examined, to see if there is a certain type of person who is more prone to such an experience. The next discussion aimed at understanding clinical issues and risks and discussed the problems some experients have in integrating the underlying transcendental meaning of the occurrence with their life. Lastly, theories hypothesizing the physiology of the near-death experience were presented. Having recently gone through my own near-death experience, this chapter held particular interest to me; I could especially understand what Greyson was saying when he wrote that experients go through a tremendous transformative process.
Grof, Stanislav. (Winter, 1994). Alternative cosmologies and altered states. Noetic Sciences Review. http:www.noetic.org/ions/archivelisting_frame.asp?ID=448; pp. 1-15.
Grof’s article comes from a talk he gave entitled “The Sacred Source: Life, Death, and the Survival of Consciousness.” Grof begins his paper by discussing the difference in attitudes between East and West in regards to dying; included in that discussion is the East’s belief that death is merely an evolution to another plane, allowing for a continuum of the journey of the soul. He then goes on to examine various forms of experiential training for dying involving nonordinary states of consciousness; in this discussion he includes shamanism, rites of passage and ancient books of the dead. From there he discusses how nonordinary states of consciousness can be tapped into by the nondying as well. He concludes by discussing the implications for that in terms of the Newtonian perspective, in that within the Newtonian framework, there are no explanations for nonordinary states of consciousness.
Harman, Willis (1994). A Re-examination of the Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science: Why is it Necessary? In Harman, Willis and Clark, Jane. New Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science. Sausalito: Institute of Noetic Sciences; pp. 1-13.
Harman begins the chapter with a quote attributed to an anonymous scientist that “philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” He goes on to address the belief of many scientists that all problems are eventually solvable by science. He then discusses six topics that he calls anomalous areas that “demonstrate major failures of the prevailing worldview to accommodate well substantiated evidence.” Harman is to be applauded not only for writing this chapter but also for rounding up the writers who contributed to this volume, for each one helped chip away at the myth of an omnipotent science capable of answering all of the questions posed. Because it is a textbook, it allows the reader to develop concrete ammunition to help counter the arguments of scientific materialism.
LaBerge, Stephen, and Gackenbach, Jayne (2000). Lucid Dreaming. In Cardena, Etzel, Lynn, Steven Jay, and Krippner, Stanley. The Varieties of Anomalous Experience. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; pp. 151-182.
I really wasn’t aware that much of the concept of lucid dreaming before reading this chapter. Nor at first did I think it to be that big a deal if someone was able to be aware that they were dreaming whilst they were dreaming. But after reading this chapter, in combination with a couple of other sources, cited and uncited, that I used for this paper, I came to understand the importance traditional cultures put on dreams, and how these types of dreams are akin to lucid dreaming. Even Chuang Tzu’s butterfly dream, cited earlier in my paper, can be understood to be a lucid dream. Lucid dreaming is a type of altered state and is something, as I said above, that traditional cultures have valued for thousands of years.
Miller, D. Patrick. Altered states: An interview with Leslie Gray. The Sun.http:www.woodfish.org/altered.html. pp. 1-10.
This article came from Gray’s website. Gray is a Native American with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and considers herself a bridge between the methodology of modern science and the healing ways of her indigenous ancestors. She is both a university instructor and a clinician. In her practice she provides a form of therapy she calls “shamanic counseling,” that adapts shamanic practice for contemporary urban dwellers. What I appreciate about her work is her desire to synthesize the best of both worlds, of shamanism and psychotherapy. As she says, becoming a master shaman is a difficult endeavor, as it forces the initiate to undergo tremendous suffering. For the modern day therapist/healer who is seriously interested in learning the shamanic arts, it may not be practical to undergo such an arduous initiation process. On the other hand, by blending the techniques in with psychotherapeutic approaches, and especially an integral psychological approach, it can have profound applications regardless of whether the therapist puts themselves through the years of suffering expected of the master shaman.
Nardo, Don, and Belgum, Erik. Voodoo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press.
This was a fascinating introductory overview of the religion of Voodoo, long parodied in the West as the cult of sorcerers and witch doctors who stick pins in dolls to exact their punishment. Interestingly, the authors are quick to point out there are no such things as Voodoo dolls in Haiti; it is in New Orleans where this practice got started. Furthermore, the authors also are quick to point out that only a small minority of Voodoo practitioners practice the evil aspects of Voodoo: this is the black magic sect. Instead most Voodoo practitioners use their powers only for the benefit of the public good. One of my former patients was Haitian, and he once told me the story of how he took his aunt, who had been sick with a mysterious stomach ailment, to a Voodoo doctor. The doctor examined her finger and made his diagnosis from that. There was some emotional component, he told her based on his finger diagnosis, and gave her some herbs to drink. My former patient told me that his aunt made a quick recovery. After reading this book, I rented the film “The Serpent and the Rainbow.” This was originally a book by anthropologist Wade Davis based on his experiences in Haiti; Davis’ exploits were discussed in Nardo’s and Belgum’s book. The movie, a pure fictionalization that was “inspired” by Davis’ book, was made by famed horrormeister Wes Craven. Based on Craven’s pedigree, I really didn’t know what to expect. The movie turned out to be a very fascinating look at Haitian culture, with a few sensational elements thrown in for good measure. Craven, incidentally, has been desirous of being seen as a serious filmmaker, “Nightmare on Elm Street” (which when you think about it, delves into the realm of dreams and lucid dreaming) not withstanding. Recently he made the film “Music of the Heart,” with Meryl Streep, the true story of a dedicated music teacher’s desire to touch the lives and hearts of her inner city pupils. It’s a long way from Elm Street to Harlem, but Craven has been working at evolving his vision from black magic into white magic, the magic of love. I have the sense that Voodoo, like all traditional medicines, is first and foremost about the magic of love; also about the magic of love is the story of a music teacher who felt inspired to make a difference, as Craven showed us in “Music of the Heart.”
Neimark, Jill (Sept./Oct. 1993). Shaman in Chicago. Psychology Today. 26, (5), pp. 46-56.
This article should be subtitled “My uncle the shaman.” Jill Neimark, a writer for Psychology Today, is the niece of Phillip John Neimark, the subject of the piece. Phillip, a nice Jewish mensch from Chicago, is the last person you would think would become a high priest in a religion that counts animal sacrifice as one of its most sacred rituals – it’s seen as a necessary sacrament that leads to actual miracles. His own brother is quoted as saying “What Phil is doing is evil.” Yet in the brother’s freezer, the author points out, are prime ribs, which he will consume as one of his dinners. I found Phil’s journey from atheist to shaman to be fascinating and his well-articulated statements to be bright, insightful and compelling. I don’t foresee myself converting to the Ifa religion nor partaking of blood sacrifices in the near future, but I still learned something from reading this article. And as a Jew raised in an analytical and cerebral environment, I could relate to Phillip Neimark’s journey.
Perkins, John (1997). Shapeshifting. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books.
Perkins’ book is the only popular book on shamanism in my bibliography. I wanted to stay away from such books because I tend to wonder how much of what the author is writing is truth and how much is embellishment? I leafed through another book I considered for my readings, Hank Wesselman’s Spiritwalker. I didn’t go through much of it so I’m not sure of the story, but I know it starts out where he’s telling his tale of experiences he had wherein he went into spontaneous nonordinary states of consciousness, which then led him to grander adventures. This might be all well and true, but how do we know when someone’s stories are true and when they’re just delusions of grandeur? Leslie Gray discusses Carlos Castaneda on her website, and states her belief that Castaneda made up some of the material. Anyway, I had heard Perkins name mentioned by various sources, and since I came across his book in a bookstore, I decided to buy it. His book is a personal account of various shamanic experiences. There’s not a lot of depth to it nor much analysis. There’s a lot of asking the reader to accept what he says at face value. I found some interesting information in his book, and I’m not one to dismiss something just because I don’t agree with the subtext; yet because I tend to be a critical thinker, I would have appreciated if Perkins were the same. It seems the popular shamanism books are renewing the romanticized version of traditional cultures as noble, wise and pure of heart. I think they are as flawed as the rest of the human race and have their screw-ups just the same as everyone else. Thus it takes a sense of critical thinking to separate the wheat from the chaff and know what to consider worthwhile information and what to consider simple-minded jargon.
Rochlin, Sheldon, Spera, Mark and Standlee, Loren (Video, 1985). Nepal: Land of the Gods. New York: Mystic Fire Video.
I really enjoyed watching this documentary about the spiritual ways and means of Nepal. It was well researched and gave a good sense of the history, tradition and spiritual practices of the Nepalese. It was an outstanding lesson about Hinduism, Buddhism, Tantra and Lamaism. The focus of most of the film was on Divine consciousness and what modalities the Nepalese use to attain that state. The last part of the film was on the Sherpas and their animistic and shamanistic culture. I found their beliefs in a world full of spirit entities fascinating, and it correlated with Eliade’s discussion of Asian shamans. What I also found interesting was the difference between the non-Sherpa Nepalese and the Sherpas. The non-Sherpas didn’t appear to give much, if any, focus or thought to an animistic world filled with spirits, while the Sherpas did. I wondered why that was, and speculated that as Buddhism and other traditional spiritual practices become more refined, the tendency is to drop the animistic aspects and focus more on the direct union with Divine consciousness. I wonder the same thing about contemporary people who talk of having spirit guides. I myself have never been comfortable with that concept (perhaps it’s the analytical and cerebral Jew in me), and I prefer aligning myself more with the Divine consciousness and receiving any messages via my intuition. Perhaps there is no difference between receiving messages from guides or from intuition, but yet, on receiving messages from my intuition, I try to discern whether it’s my intuition or whether it’s my own insecurities and neuroses coming through. Those speaking with perceived guides may not discriminate at all and reckon that anything they hear from a guide is a divinely inspired message. Thus they can’t make a critical determination between fact and fancy. After all, the Son of Sam serial killer claimed his sinister messages were divine inspirations that came to him from his dog Sam. So it may be that the more refined and evolved a person’s consciousness becomes, the less apt they are to focus on external voices and spirits and more apt they are to listen to their own inner voice of intuition, which in actuality is Divine guidance.
Schlitz, Marilyn (Spring 1998). Amazon dreaming. Noetic Sciences Review.http:www.noetic.org/ions/archivelisting_frame.asp?ID=275; pp. 1-6.
Schlitz writes of her communion with the Achuar peoples of the Amazon, and their practice of dream sharing. She is putting together a research project on this practice. Just like the Dream Yoga of Tibet that I mention in my paper, the Achuar believe the waking state is an illusion and the true nature of reality is perceived and manipulated within dreams and hallucinogenic visions. Their belief is when one dreams, one’s soul leaves the body and travels to parallel worlds. Schlitz then points out that in the West there is no sense that dreams hold any soul visions. Perhaps it was Freud who first pioneered in the West the meanings of dreams in relation to the psyche; yet Freud interpreted dreams within a personal context and not as having deeper collective and cultural significance. The Achuar, on the other hand, looked to understand the meaning of dreams both for the individual and the community. Probably the only work in the West in understanding dreams the way the Achuar do is the research work into lucid dreaming.
Solomon, Grant (1997). Stephen Turoff: Psychic Surgeon. London: Thorsons.
I found this book in a bookstore while perusing shelves. I was curious about the subject and decided to purchase it. Like his counterparts in Brazil, Turoff is a trance surgeon, performing gross surgery on people while having had no training or background in biomedicine. He has a spirit team; entities from another dimension who work through Turoff to perform the work. Interestingly, one of the entities who work through Turoff is Jose Arigo, who was one of the original trance surgeons of Brazil, and was the first person to channel the spirit of Dr. Fritz. The skeptic in me can dismiss it, yet having seen a video on Dr. Fritz, I know there is something to this phenomena. To explain it would go beyond current logic. In my paper I have tried to hypothesize one possibility as an explanation. The author of this book, Grant Solomon, while close to and a fan of Stephen Turoff, attempts to maintain a degree of objectivity in his writing, as he presents the skeptic’s view, and doesn’t readily dismiss their objections out of hand. In his postscript Solomon writes that as he was sitting in his publishers office in London to discuss the book, he peered out the window and saw Sai Baba walking by, although Sai Baba was in India at the time. Solomon then writes, “I am aware that for some, this admission will damage my credibility beyond recovery. But please be assured that I sincerely believe it to be the truth.” My only query on this is who is this guy Sai Baba? And can any of the things he has been reported to do be true?
Wald, George (1994). The Cosmology of Life and Mind. In Harman, Willis and Clark, Jane. New Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science. Sausalito: Institute of Noetic Sciences; pp. 123-131.
Wald examines the worlds of cosmology and consciousness, showing the interrelatedness of the two. Furthermore, he discusses that neither of these two areas can be answered irrefutably by the hard sciences. In fact what Wald says is that in science the questions are so much more important than the answers. He believes that the mistakes in science come when the scientists try to come up with final answers. All science’s answers are tentative, Wald states, and breed further questions. This is the kind of scientist I admire, one who always probes and penetrates and never ceases to accept that there are absolutes. In the last paragraph of the chapter, Wald summarizes his points by discussing Bohr’s principle of complementarity (mind and matter as complementary aspects of reality). In doing so, he quotes from the Hindu Upanishads to show that it is easier to speak of these principles of physics in the East than in the West. In India it has always been believed that mind pervades the universe and is primary to matter. This, too, is the point Wald makes, and is the point I also firmly believe to be true.
Wellman, Jan and Hallonen, Arto (Video, 1998). A Dreamer and the Dreamtime. Finland: Mandrake Productions.
Here is another resource about the dream cultures of traditional civilizations. The indigenous peoples profiled in this documentary are the Temiar Senoi, a tribe living in Malaysia. The film runs a parallel story to the story of the tribe and their dream techniques, showing the work of various scientists doing dream research, and especially those working in the field of lucid dreaming. The Temiar Senoi, like other cultures immersed in the dream world, listen to the personal and collective meanings of their dreams, and follow these visions accordingly. Their harmonious and non-violent way of living has been claimed to be a direct result of their dream directed habits. An interesting segment in the film was a scene in which a Westerner was having a nightmare; the point of that was that because Westerners don’t have a dream culture, they are doomed to be tormented by their dreams. And these dreams spill over into everyday life, whereby a Westerner continually is in battle with their internal demons for control of their psyche and soul.
Wilber, Ken (1996). A Brief History of Everything. Boston: Shambhala.
Wilber, one of the foremost theorists of the West, has the ability to synthesize wide-ranging material and then present it in a coherent, lucid and logical framework. I am truly indebted to the commitment he has to his work and presenting his material. I have found his maps of the evolution of consciousness, his theories of ascending and descending cultures, and his quadrant theory to be brilliant and enlightening. I resisted reading this book for a few years because I did not believe there could be such a thing as a theory of everything. I’m still not sure if there can be such a thing, but if anyone were capable of creating one, Wilber would be the best candidate. Another point Wilber makes that is relevant to this paper is that just because someone has a mystical experience does not necessarily make them more enlightened. While Maslow called these “peak experiences,” Wilber calls them “peek experiences.” What he means is that these mystical experiences are just a peek of what lies ahead, but in the interim one still has work to do to climb the ladder of the evolution of consciousness. Wilber advocates a marriage of Freud and the Buddha to achieve this ascent; another phrase he has used to explain this type of work is integral transformative practices. Wilber believes that integral transformative practices will protect practitioners from what he calls the pre/trans fallacy, the mistaken belief that undeveloped and unevolved behaviors, what are more prepersonal or prerational, can be mistaken to be transpersonal or transrational behaviors. Just because someone is a shaman and bangs on a drum and has mystical visions doesn’t necessarily make them a transpersonal visionary. They may be lacking any sort of rational understanding of personal and collective emotional, physical, psychological, existential and spiritual needs, especially from a Western mindset. And it’s not enough to say Westerners are bad, traditional cultures are good, because the bottom line is that we are all human beings with the same physiological, emotional and spiritual makeup. Thus, as Wilber points out, there are holistic thinking Newtonian types, and there are atomistic thinking, new paradigm, ecophilosopher types. In other words, it is not enough to be accepted as a guru just because one espouses all the right words, as we have seen by the various gurus who have been uncovered as frauds in recent times. Instead, what is needed is for people to understand the steps leading towards an evolution of consciousness and follow this path accordingly. The ones who understand this path more fully will become the teachers and leaders, and their titles may be shaman, psychologist, medical doctor, acupuncturist, spiritual teacher, artist, musician, politician, business executive, professor, public school teacher, writer, policeman, carpenter, short order cook, and/or countless other myriad occupations.