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supraliminal

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
And all her train were hurl’d.

(From The World by Henry Vaughan)

Given the unfolding story of my Parliament of Selves, republishing this sequence on consecutive days seemed a no-brainer.

In the previous post I described the experience of being dynamited into an awareness of subliminal forces operating below the lower threshold of my consciousness. Now I need to turn, in this attempt to explain why this whole issue of filters and thresholds fascinates me so much, to my experiences of higher consciousness.

I need to clarify right from the start that I am a slightly disappointed mystic manqué, so anyone hoping for stories about the higher flights of mysticism probably needs to go somewhere else to find them. However, there are aspects of my journey from the basement of my brain to something somewhat closer to the heaven of true understanding that might reward attention.

Quest

There is a 13 year gap between the closest I have ever got to a mystical experience and the breakthrough I described earlier into the cellar of my mind. Those 13 years covered a journey through further breathwork in a therapeutic community in the Lake District close to Wordsworth’s birthplace. In the end I remained stuck at the same level as I have described in the previous post – floating endlessly in the tank of tears just beneath the surface of my consciousness.

So there was then a disillusioned return to the mainstream. This was not simply the result of a frustration at my own lack of progress. I also saw that a few others who came to the commune for help, some of them seriously in need, went away in a worse state than they came after a fruitless few days in a tent at the bottom of the garden. I ended up packing my few belongings, leaving the commune and driving back to London, taking with me one of the people I felt we had failed to where he would hopefully find more effective help and friendship. I know that my having a car is evidence of an even worse attachment to the world I was affecting to despise than that of the dervish who dashed back from the mountains to the palace he had been staying at to get the begging bowl he’d left behind while the prince he had persuaded to leave his palace and come with him looked on in complete amazement, but it was at least the means by which I got someone else as well as myself out of an unpleasant and unhelpful predicament.

I was also strongly motivated by a desire to have more chance to work therapeutically with more people more effectively. I realised that this could not be done from the outside of society looking in as I had previously thought. It was better to be on the inside where most other people and many more resources were to be found.

I spent several years working in social services at a day centre. I rapidly realised that social work was not for me – too many forms to fill in and court appearances to make. Even now, I always fill in forms first of all in pencil before I commit to ink, as I always make at least one major mistake on every form, no matter how simple. As for the combination in court of drama and detail, that was always too big a stretch for me. I prefer working behind the scenes and am purblind to details.

In any case, I was far more interested in what goes on between people’s ears. So, in spite of some misgivings about the experimental side of the course, I enrolled to do a psychology degree in the evenings at Birkbeck College. I also participated in a Transactional Analysis/Gestalt Group for a year, and then began learning meditation at the same time as qualifying as a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Surrey.

While I think the meditation helped me stay grounded as I juggled a wide range of different commitments throughout that process, and while I certainly found the psychologically penetrating insights of Buddhism a humbling and effective vaccine against the hubris of scientism that infected my profession, I cannot boast of any transcendental states – just of a relative ease in maintaining a simple calm unflustered state of mind under stress and occasional access to a tingling energy which pervaded by whole being for brief periods. I still committed major blunders from time to time but I got through to the end of the qualification experience relatively unscathed, thanks in part to the ballast meditation provided to keep my mind’s boat stable in rough seas.

Shrine of the Bab

At the end of that long journey, triggered by a visit to Hendon library, a story I will share another time, I started to tread the Baha’i path. My first three hour visit to the Baha’i Centre in London induced a buzzing energetic state of mind which lasted for a fortnight and which hours of meditation would have failed to achieve for me. I read my way through a bagful of books with only about four hours sleep a night – those close to me who know my aptitude for sleep will testify to how remarkable that was.

Two years after that I married and soon after the birth of our son we all went as a family to Israel on pilgrimage in 1987. We stayed in Haifa and visited Akka.  The Baha’i Holy places are located there and this is where the experiences I want to describe took place.

Pilgrimage

I was unable to enter the Shrine of the Bab the first time I saw it. It was evening and the Shrine was closed so I had to stand some distance away, as the sun was beginning to set, and lean against an iron gate. I found myself uncontrollably sobbing. This was not the pool of tears I was so used to from my encounter group experiences. These were tears of profound relief. The best way I can describe how I felt is to say that it was like an exile coming home after many long years of believing he would never see his longed-for native land again.

This of course does not constitute conclusive evidence of any kind of mystical reality. It was an intense experience but can be explained, if you wish, without evoking other realms of reality than the material. Nonetheless, for me personally this was the beginning of a completely unexpected sequence of reactions to the whole experience of pilgrimage. I was as unprepared for the power of this sense of return as I had been for the breakthrough to my mind’s basement all those years earlier. That I had not been anticipating any such response suggests there was a break through of some kind from across a threshold. I cannot prove it was a breakthrough from above but it felt as though it was.

The following day I stood at the door of the Shrine of the Bab totally unable to cross that particular threshold. It was not until several others had entered before me, while I stood there dithering, that I could bring myself to go inside. Then, somehow, I managed to force myself to enter. Completely contrary to my expectation at the time, I felt waves of immense power pass over me and the whole air vibrate with an irresistible intensity.

I had expected a completely different experience altogether. I had expected something like a warm glow of love to envelope me. It would have fitted more with the sense I had of the Bab’s personality. Indiscussing the possible objective validity of near death experiences, Mark Fox attaches considerable importance to the fact that, in many reports, what the person experienced was very different from what his culture had led him to expect. That this was also true, though in a less specific way, of this experience prompts me to feel that there was something outside my own projections at work here, something to do with an objective out-there quality of the Bab’s spiritual reality. It was this combination of intensity and unexpectedness that leads to me feel this quite strongly. It was also a very different feeling from the one I had been engulfed by when I stood by the gate the previous evening. This would have primed me for some kind of repetition of the same thing: what actually occurred was very different.

Each Shrine that I stepped into on that pilgrimage had its own particular impact. The Shrine of the Master glowed gently with a warm acceptance, much as I had thought it would. So expectations were not contradicted here. However, the Shrine of Baha’u’llah at Bahji, on the other hand, also totally defied my expectations. Here was where I had expected the raw power, but felt instead enveloped in a loving embrace of such unconditional completeness that I sobbed uncontrollably once more.

I won’t test your patience by repeating the same line of reasoning again but for me it applies here also, and for two out of three experiences in the Shrines to go against expectation so intensely confirms for me my sense that there was something outside my own projections that was shaping that impact. I was not aware then and cannot recall now any influences from other pilgrims that might have had the effects upon my reactions that would have been necessary to go so strongly against the grain of my expectations.

I am sure you are all already aware that I have no expectation that these accounts of my experiences will necessarily persuade you to come to the same conclusions as I have on the basis of them. I have shared them as a way of beginning to explain why I am so fascinated by the borderlands of consciousness and what might lie beyond, and why I keep reading in search of evidence that might point ever more clearly towards their true significance. I tend to shy away from such personal sharing because I am all too aware that its power to shape a sense of reality does not extend beyond my skull. Still, maybe the risk was worth taking.

Shrine Entrance Bahji

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Swirl

Another example of where deep conversations can lead.

More faith in honest doubt?

Any reader of this blog will know I’m really into NDEs – sorry, near death experiences for the uninitiated – and accept the validity of the basic experience as proof that consciousness is not reducible to the brain. Though I try hard to give the sceptic within a fair hearing, life sometimes has to send me a hint that I should sift at least some of the evidence more carefully. I got one of those hints just the other week.

I had a visitor, a good friend, someone I’d not seen though for quite a few years. He hadn’t changed much. Stocky, square-faced, with a confident stride, he came in through the front door as though he’d never been away.

Always when we meet our conversations go deep – the kind I like as I’ve already explained on this blog. This time was no exception.

He sat on the sofa opposite the window, his compact frame looking ready to spring into instant action as though, even after all this time, his years in the army had still not worn off. For someone so apparently on standby, he spoke slowly, with a Northern twang and with relatively little expression in his voice. Even so, from time to time he would scrunch up his eyes and open them again as though trying to clear his vision.

It was obvious that he felt strongly about what we were discussing.

Over the tea that I had made for him, which stayed untouched on the small table by his knee for what seemed ages as he spoke, he brought me up-to date with his state of play. The steam from the coffee in my left hand spiralled between us across my gaze.

He has a combination of problems, mainly high blood pressure and sleeplessness probably caused by the constant pain from old injuries: this also prevents him functioning at full capacity most of the time, though there are days, he said, when he can dig for hours with no discomfort. He keeps positive mentally by drawing on what he had learnt from reading Krishnamurti over the years, and from the one time they had met and spoken together for some considerable time.

‘As soon as I began to feel important because of this attention,’ my friend explained, ‘Krishnamurti walked off.’

The hours we had spent in the past repeatedly revisiting Krishnamurti’s teachings came flooding back. His explanations when they happened, as they often did, had tended to last an extremely long time, the teachings meant so much to him.

I dunked a ginger biscuit into my coffee at about this point. He hadn’t touched his tea yet. I stood up and offered him a biscuit, which he took and began to drink his tea.

Then he made a knight’s move into unexpected territory, possibly under the influence of the biscuit or maybe the tea. Perhaps he had said all he needed to say about Krishnamurti for now.

To my surprise, we had moved into my home town – the NDE. Well, at least, I thought we had, until he mentioned electronic beds in the context of altered states of consciousness. This was news to me. He’d brought this into the conversation because he thought such an invention might be a possible cure for his physical ills by enabling him to draw upon the higher powers of his mind.

He said he’d found out about this after reading a book called Saved by the Light by Dannion Brinkley and Paul Perry. The title sounded familiar to me but I couldn’t remember anything about it.

‘This guy was struck by lightning,’ he explained. ‘He was an engineer and had the skills to make this kind of bed. He had an NDE. He was sent back to produce this bed. Only he didn’t do so straightaway so he had another NDE and was told to get on with it. I call them e-beds for short. You’ve probably read it and know all this already.’

He added that Brinkley claimed the beds were able to induce out-of-body experiences (OBEs) such that two people could communicate telepathically with each other. He seemed to accept these claims as valid.

‘I’ve read about someone who was struck by lightning but he was an arms manufacturer. Doesn’t sound like the same guy, and I’ve heard nothing about an electronic bed.’

Anyway the conversation began to fizzle out shortly after this. I made him lunch and we walked to town together afterwards. We agreed to meet up again soon and went our separate ways. But the connection I’d made with the man struck by lightning kept crackling and sparking away in my mind as I walked on.

I didn’t get the time to follow up on it till the next day.

Initially, when I looked the following day, I couldn’t find any reference to any kind of ‘e-bed’ on the net. Then I thought I’d check my shelves for the book. It had sounded so familiar I might just have read it and lost track.

Good grounds for not buying the package?

NDE books

All my NDE books are in one place and sure enough, it was there – I’d read the book. The familiar account unfolded as I read it. My conviction that it must have been in Ken Ring’s book Lessons from the Light bit the dust. I had thought he was an arms manufacturer but in fact he claims to have been a soldier and, post-discharge, in special ops. My mistake has even found its way into one of my poems. My unchecked memory at fault again! How could I have forgotten what I actually read, and transmuted it into something so different. I’ve explored that question before so I won’t go over that ground again, though it is disturbing to realize that I don’t even listen to myself.

Basically, I respect my friend’s integrity – there are few people with more – but I don’t trust his judgement – I’ve come not to trust my own judgement so why should I not question other people’s? The fact that my friend had been in the army and not retained this part of the story and recreated Brinkley as an engineer mirrored my mistake as a retired psychologist in missing evidence of psychopathology in his younger days and morphing him into an arms dealer.

More than enough cause to give full rein to my inner sceptic about e-beds and OBEs at the very least.

The description of his history prior to the NDE makes him sound as if he might have been some kind of sociopath. He may have chosen to present himself that way to make his transformation all the more dramatic. (There were other suspicious aspects to his account as my subsequent researches would show and I’ll discuss in a moment.) Here’s a quote from his own description of himself in case you don’t believe me about the possible pathology (pages 12-13).

Once in sixth grade, the teacher asked me to stop disrupting class. When I refused, she grabbed my arm and began marching me towards the principal’s office. As we walked out of the classroom, I pulled loose and hit her with an uppercut that knocked her to the ground. As she held her bleeding nose, I walked myself to the principal’s office. As I explained to my parents, I didn’t mind going to the office, I just didn’t want to be pulled there by a teacher.

We lived next door to the junior high school I attended, and I could sit on the porch and watch the kids in the playground on the days that I was suspended from school. One day I was sitting there when a group of girls came to the fence and started making fun of me. I wasn’t going to take that. I went into the house, got my brother’s shot gun, and loaded it with rock salt. Then I came back out and shot the girls in the back as they fled, screaming.

He also claims that he went on to act as a sniper for the US military – an army hitman. His worst outrage, according to his account, was blowing up a hotel, killing 50 innocent people in order to take out one target person.

What was I dealing with here? Did an NDE really change a sociopath into an empathic caring individual, if so that was amazing in itself, e-bed or no e-bed. Was he creating a myth for his own advantage to sell his books and readings, psychopath or no psychopath? Or maybe this was another example of what more and more people are claiming, that there is a positive side to psychopathy, and the lightning strike brought it out in his case, NDE or no NDE.

I really needed to investigate further.

First of all, I found the e-bed via an account of Ron Moody’s (see post):

Dannion claims that during his near-death experience, otherworldly beings showed him a design for an electronic bed with healing powers. They instructed him to build this device and to install it in his healing centers. I have seen several models of this bed from beyond. They are comfortable recliners with built-in headsets that play tape-recorded music through the body by bone conduction. When I tried one of the beds, I found its effects indistinguishable from hypnagogia.

The most he accuses Brinkley of is sensationalising his story the better to gain the credibility that helps his good cause, hospice care. He sees it as harmless.

To sum up, Dannion Brinkley’s story appeals because it tries so many colorful threads of popular paranormality together into one entertainment package.

I want to make it clear that I am writing in the abstract, and that, personally, I find Betty and Dannion to be lovable and endearing people who do good things for others. I understand, for example, that Dannion recruits volunteers for hospice during his dramatic and exciting talks with large audiences, and gets quite a few of them. I don’t question either of their motives for a second. I am merely pointing out here what makes them listened to.

Problems with the Core NDE

Waking in morgue

Waking in the morgue (for source of image see link)

Others, I discovered, were not so forgiving.

For a start there is this more scathing scepticism from Roy Rivenburg with help from Paul Dean in the LA Times:

[Dannion] Brinkley says his life review covered “at least 6,000 fistfights” that he had between fifth and 12th grades. That averages out to two brawls a day, nonstop for eight years, making Brinkley the Wilt Chamberlain of schoolyard pugilism.

He also says he was a Marine Corps sniper during the Vietnam War, dispatched to Cambodia and Laos to assassinate enemy officers and politicians. But military records show that Pfc. Brinkley was never a sniper, never saw combat, indeed never left the United States during his 18 months in the service.

He was a truck driver stationed in Atlanta.

Brinkley declines to offer any evidence of overseas duty, saying the government is covering up his record because it is classified. But several sources inside and outside the military (including ex-Marines involved in the same covert operations Brinkley claims a role in) say his tale is full of holes and that the so-called secret files are all public.

To be fair, I can’t find the 6,000 fights quote in my copy of the book so maybe Rivenburg is overstating his case as well though in the opposite direction.

There are further questions though (see link) about the facts around his physical ‘death.’ This is far more damaging to the whole issue of establishing the validity of NDEs as a whole. I will quote at some length from this article.

In his book, “Saved By the Light,” Dannion recounts his story and embellishes upon the details [of his NDE]. He claims that he was dead for 28 minutes. During this time, he floated above his body, watching as his wife attempted to revive him in the moments after the lightning strike. He says he heard a paramedic pronounce him dead. . . . . And then, he woke up in the hospital just before being taken to the morgue.

It is an incredible story; one that saw his book at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, as well as spawning a highly rated television movie. Dannion has since used his notoriety to become a psychic, charging $250 for a half hour reading [link], . . . . But if his story were true, we can reasonably expect that he would have told a similar one in the days following his injury. But it’s not, because he didn’t. . . .

Carl Langley was a newspaper reporter for the Augusta Herald at the time of Dannion’s ordeal. He interviewed him, and in the September 19th 1975 edition, published a story about the incident titled “Phone Call Almost Cost Him His Life.” The story as Mr. Brinkley told it then is dramatically different than the one he tells now in his books and interviews. Remember how Dannion said he was dead for 28 minutes, and the paramedic pronounced him dead? Langley’s newspaper article says otherwise:

“Frantically, Mrs. Brinkley began pounding away on her husband’s chest, stopping only to grasp his tongue and pull it away from his windpipe so he could breathe.

“‘I was out for a few minutes, and she saved my life,’ Danny said. With breathing restored, Mrs. Brinkley called the paramedics.”

But there’s more. Remember, Dannion also tells people that he woke up in the hospital later, after having traveled to heaven and talking to angels. . . . Dr. Gilmore Eaves says he was at Dannion’s side within an hour of his brush with lightning. . .

“When I saw him he was completely lucid,” Dr. Eaves said. . . . Nor did he ever tell him about seeing a light or seeing a cathedral.

When Brinkley was filmed being confronted with this evidence by a reporter in the video ‘Dr Death’ he laughs it off, explaining that he was young and embarrassed and, “wasn’t gonna start ranting and raving about a near-death experience.”

Later still he responded in a video to these doubts. The report deals with these also and makes a particularly telling point at the end. For the point-by-point commentary see the original story.

But the film “Reverend Death” came out in 2008. It is three years later now, and Dannion has had some time to make up a new version of what happened. In a video posted on his website on May 18th of 2011, Dannion now claims to not remember much about the days of the events in question, which is funny since he has never had problems remembering in radio and television interviews before. . . . . It is also interesting that he has waited until after Mr. Langley and Dr. Eaves have passed away to say all this.

The report comes to a clear conclusion.

He has invented a fictional story about an Out-of-Body experience to sell books. He has given people false hope about heaven, angels, and crystal cities, and has made a fortune doing it. . . . .  When confronted with his fictions, he changes his story or infers that everyone else is lying about what happened.

Where does that leave us?

light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel032111Since I don’t have access to his medical records (nor does anyone else as far as I can tell) there’s no way I can come to a definitive conclusion on this matter – an endemic problem with much NDE research except prospective studies, I’m afraid. Whatever the exact status of his NDE story is, all this undermining background noise would make the uncritical quoting of his NDE experience in any piece on the subject somewhat unsettling.

For example, though Fenwick, in his excellent book, is sceptical of the prophecies Brinkley claims to have been given he accepts the core account as valid (The Truth in the Light – pages 240-241):

As the book was published in 1994 is difficult to comment on predictions reported in it about events which happened before this date, events such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the Gulf War. The dates of these events – 1986 and 1990 – and many other pre-publication happenings came into Dannion’s head with pinpoint accuracy as he saw them on his spiritual tele-screen. But, as tends to be the way with prophecies, those events due to take place after 1994 are foretold with less precision.

Interestingly he speaks as Moody does of Betty Eade and Brinkley in the same breath. He does so in a way that brushes to one side the reservations and focuses upon what he believes is the core of truth (page 241):

. . . . if we pare are away the more extravagant aspects of these two experiences we are left with a great deal that the rings true – the tunnel, the light, the feelings of joy and tranquillity.

The books I trust the most do not mention Brinkley at all, as for instance with Mark Fox and Pim van Lommel, or at least only in passing as in the case of Nancy Evans Bush.

So, where does this leave me now?

I still feel the balance of the evidence is in favour of the validity of the NDE in general even if we do not yet know exactly what it is telling us about life after death. My faith in that has not been shaken. Mario Beauregard allowed the posting two years ago of a clear and coherent summary of the current state of play. Fox and Bush, in particular, convincingly address the difficult issues surrounding the NDE with rigour and clarity. Pim van Lommel bases his conclusions on a rich wealth of prospective data. Charlatans can be found in all walks of life, though perhaps more so where the paranormal is concerned, and often profit at the expense of a dispassionate investigation of the facts: this should not be allowed to cloud the truth completely.

My view concerning Brinkley is that, if his account is in anyway spiced up or fundamentally incorrect, the honourable thing for him to do would be to set the record straight before he dies. After all, the main thrust of his first NDE concerns being forced to experience the pain his actions had caused others. If his NDE account is in anyway valid, he must therefore recognize the imperative of coming clean as his distortions of the truth would otherwise continue damaging many people, both those who believe them because they will have based at least some of their important decisions upon a fairy tale, and perhaps more so those who don’t because the doubts created by his fabrications will have kept them away from the truth.

If he never had any such experience and simply invented it for profit, then I don’t expect that argument would hold much water and he’ll carry on regardless. If his account is true in every detail, which seems doubtful, then he need do nothing more than carry on as he is.

As for me this post is a different kind of wake-up call.  I need to take care myself not to use dubious evidence to support my views for fear of discrediting my own case. It’s hard to remain so consistently vigilant but it looks like it’s a necessary precaution.

Footnote:

I have found references that suggest there is a genuine account of an arms dealer’s NDE in no way related to the one referred to here. I am still searching for the original version.

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Levels of Consciousness

I recently embarked on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to where our society is heading and what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I decided that I also needed to republish other posts from the past that related in some way to that basic theme, even though I might have done there same thing recently. Earlier I republished a sequence of posts looking at Dabrowski’s Theory of Personal Disintegration (TPD). Because this next sequence picks up on those themes from the perspective of a different writer, I thought it worthwhile republishing these as well as they relate to Wilber’s theme of levels of consciousness. There are four posts in this sequence. The second will be published Friday and the other two on Saturday and Sunday.   

When I first read Jenny Wade’s book, Changes of Mind, I was carried away when she hypothesises that the highest possible stage of the development of human consciousness is Unity Consciousness. As ‘unity’ is a Bahá’í mantra, this was enough in itself to guarantee my complete attention and disarm my disagreements.

But there was more. This level of development was the last of nine. In Arabic numerology nine is the numerical value of the word at the core of the name of this Revelation: ‘Bahá.’ I was entranced. I wrote ‘Brilliant!’ inside the front flyleaf after I’d finished the book.

Because my recent reading of Dabrowski (see three earlier posts) has sensitised me to the possibility of categorising levels of consciousness and perhaps even character development, I decided to re-read her book.

I have decided this time round that it is brilliant (for different reasons though) but flawed.

Still brilliant after all these years

Why do I think this? My reasons fall into three main groups for present purposes: near death experiences, lateralisation of brain function, and the IMG_0493drivers of transitions from one level to the next.

The first topic is, in my view her weakest, and why I feel the book is flawed. Her treatment of this topic does not stand up well after reading Mark Fox’s thorough examination of the issues.

Her reflections on lateralisation and its relationship with the development of consciousness are intriguing and will probably prompt me to revisit Iain McGilchrist to check them out more thoroughly, but as it stands I resonate strongly to what she says. She maps out her levels of consciousness against the back drop of lateralisation and mounts a compelling argument for the value but extreme difficulty of achieving a proper balance in our lives between the operation of the two hemispheres of the brain. But more of that in the next post.

Her most interesting observations to me at present relate to the way that her model maps closely onto Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration in key respects. She analyses, in a more close-grained fashion than Dabrowski, which kind of conflict and discomfort spurs us to move up from the comfort zone of our present level of consciousness to the next step up the ladder of awareness.

bohm

David Bohm

It is probably only fair to add that I am completely incapable of properly evaluating the foundation of her thesis in Bohm’s work on the implicate order as I simply do not understand Bohm’s thinking well enough. You may well wish to stop reading at this point if you feel I have totally disqualified myself from commenting on her other lines of thought.

My simple summary of what I think she means in terms of Bohm is this. There is a hidden order and a visible one. Both are inextricably intertwined. The visible, or perhaps more accurately, the accessible order is the material world as we commonly experience it. The hidden order (though transcendent, timeless and placeless) is also expressed in and through the physical world here and now. Our highest self exists fully realised already in the hidden order but remains invisible to almost all of us. The purpose of our lives is to come to a realisation and expression of and identification with that self, consciously in the visible order. When we do so all ego and desire will fall away, and self in any sense we currently understand it fades away completely. If we fail, in her view we are reincarnated again to have another go. Moving up the levels of consciousness is primarily about cleansing the lens of perception so that we can experience in its true nature what is currently hidden from us.

For those of you who have continued reading, we need to look slightly more closely at the first of the themes I mentioned, and later at the other two in even greater detail.

Near-Death Experiences (NDEs):

One of the key problems here is that she fails to recognise, from the evidence available to her at the time, that NDE-type experiences are not uniquely linked to close encounters with death as she contends (page 324) on the basis of evidence drawn from Morse. Fox’s access to the RERC data enabled him to recognise the common elements between so-called NDE experiences and other mystical and spiritual states where there was neither a threat to life nor any kind of trauma. She does though accept (page 239), but more cautiously than Fox, that ‘near-death consciousness . . . appears to share some characteristics of Transcendent consciousness.’

She also rather too uncritically accepts a long list of core elements (pages 225-226), something about which Fox’s critical re-examination has caused me to be rather more sceptical.

Given that NDEs are very much secondary to her main thesis and her treatment of the issue covers a mere 24 pages out of her total of 341, it is perhaps not too surprising that it falls short of Fox’s focused and thorough treatment.

It certainly does not seriously blemish the overall case she is seeking to make. More of that next time.

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Levels of Consciousness

Last week I republished a sequence of posts looking at Dabrowski’s Theory of Personal Disintegration (TPD). Because this next sequence picks up on those themes from the perspective of a different writer, I thought it worthwhile republishing these as well so that all the related posts have been reblogged close together. There are four posts in this sequence. The second will be published tomorrow and the other two on Saturday and Sunday.   

When I first read Jenny Wade’s book, Changes of Mind, I was carried away when she hypothesises that the highest possible stage of the development of human consciousness is Unity Consciousness. As ‘unity’ is a Bahá’í mantra, this was enough in itself to guarantee my complete attention and disarm my disagreements.

But there was more. This level of development was the last of nine. In Arabic numerology nine is the numerical value of the word at the core of the name of this Revelation: ‘Bahá.’ I was entranced. I wrote ‘Brilliant!’ inside the front flyleaf after I’d finished the book.

Because my recent reading of Dabrowski (see three earlier posts) has sensitised me to the possibility of categorising levels of consciousness and perhaps even character development, I decided to re-read her book.

I have decided this time round that it is brilliant (for different reasons though) but flawed.

Still brilliant after all these years

Why do I think this? My reasons fall into three main groups for present purposes: near death experiences, lateralisation of brain function, and the IMG_0493drivers of transitions from one level to the next.

The first topic is, in my view her weakest, and why I feel the book is flawed. Her treatment of this topic does not stand up well after reading Mark Fox’s thorough examination of the issues.

Her reflections on lateralisation and its relationship with the development of consciousness are intriguing and will probably prompt me to revisit Iain McGilchrist to check them out more thoroughly, but as it stands I resonate strongly to what she says. She maps out her levels of consciousness against the back drop of lateralisation and mounts a compelling argument for the value but extreme difficulty of achieving a proper balance in our lives between the operation of the two hemispheres of the brain. But more of that in the next post.

Her most interesting observations to me at present relate to the way that her model maps closely onto Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration in key respects. She analyses, in a more close-grained fashion than Dabrowski, which kind of conflict and discomfort spurs us to move up from the comfort zone of our present level of consciousness to the next step up the ladder of awareness.

bohm

David Bohm

It is probably only fair to add that I am completely incapable of properly evaluating the foundation of her thesis in Bohm’s work on the implicate order as I simply do not understand Bohm’s thinking well enough. You may well wish to stop reading at this point if you feel I have totally disqualified myself from commenting on her other lines of thought.

My simple summary of what I think she means in terms of Bohm is this. There is a hidden order and a visible one. Both are inextricably intertwined. The visible, or perhaps more accurately, the accessible order is the material world as we commonly experience it. The hidden order (though transcendent, timeless and placeless) is also expressed in and through the physical world here and now. Our highest self exists fully realised already in the hidden order but remains invisible to almost all of us. The purpose of our lives is to come to a realisation and expression of and identification with that self, consciously in the visible order. When we do so all ego and desire will fall away, and self in any sense we currently understand it fades away completely. If we fail, in her view we are reincarnated again to have another go. Moving up the levels of consciousness is primarily about cleansing the lens of perception so that we can experience in its true nature what is currently hidden from us.

For those of you who have continued reading, we need to look slightly more closely at the first of the themes I mentioned, and later at the other two in even greater detail.

Near-Death Experiences (NDEs):

One of the key problems here is that she fails to recognise, from the evidence available to her at the time, that NDE-type experiences are not uniquely linked to close encounters with death as she contends (page 324) on the basis of evidence drawn from Morse. Fox’s access to the RERC data enabled him to recognise the common elements between so-called NDE experiences and other mystical and spiritual states where there was neither a threat to life nor any kind of trauma. She does though accept (page 239), but more cautiously than Fox, that ‘near-death consciousness . . . appears to share some characteristics of Transcendent consciousness.’

She also rather too uncritically accepts a long list of core elements (pages 225-226), something about which Fox’s critical re-examination has caused me to be rather more sceptical.

Given that NDEs are very much secondary to her main thesis and her treatment of the issue covers a mere 24 pages out of her total of 341, it is perhaps not too surprising that it falls short of Fox’s focused and thorough treatment.

It certainly does not seriously blemish the overall case she is seeking to make. More of that next time.

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Swirl

More faith in honest doubt?

Any reader of this blog will know I’m really into NDEs – sorry, near death experiences for the uninitiated – and accept the validity of the basic experience as proof that consciousness is not reducible to the brain. Though I try hard to give the sceptic within a fair hearing, life sometimes has to send me a hint that I should sift at least some of the evidence more carefully. I got one of those hints just the other week.

I had a visitor, a good friend, someone I’d not seen though for quite a few years. He hadn’t changed much. Stocky, square-faced, with a confident stride, he came in through the front door as though he’d never been away.

Always when we meet our conversations go deep – the kind I like as I’ve already explained on this blog. This time was no exception.

He sat on the sofa opposite the window, his compact frame looking ready to spring into instant action as though, even after all this time, his years in the army had still not worn off. For someone so apparently on standby, he spoke slowly, with a Northern twang and with relatively little expression in his voice. Even so, from time to time he would scrunch up his eyes and open them again as though trying to clear his vision.

It was obvious that he felt strongly about what we were discussing.

Over the tea that I had made for him, which stayed untouched on the small table by his knee for what seemed ages as he spoke, he brought me up-to date with his state of play. The steam from the coffee in my left hand spiralled between us across my gaze.

He has a combination of problems, mainly high blood pressure and sleeplessness probably caused by the constant pain from old injuries: this also prevents him functioning at full capacity most of the time, though there are days, he said, when he can dig for hours with no discomfort. He keeps positive mentally by drawing on what he had learnt from reading Krishnamurti over the years, and from the one time they had met and spoken together for some considerable time.

‘As soon as I began to feel important because of this attention,’ my friend explained, ‘Krishnamurti walked off.’

The hours we had spent in the past repeatedly revisiting Krishnamurti’s teachings came flooding back. His explanations when they happened, as they often did, had tended to last an extremely long time, the teachings meant so much to him.

I dunked a ginger biscuit into my coffee at about this point. He hadn’t touched his tea yet. I stood up and offered him a biscuit, which he took and began to drink his tea.

Then he made a knight’s move into unexpected territory, possibly under the influence of the biscuit or maybe the tea. Perhaps he had said all he needed to say about Krishnamurti for now.

To my surprise, we had moved into my home town – the NDE. Well, at least, I thought we had, until he mentioned electronic beds in the context of altered states of consciousness. This was news to me. He’d brought this into the conversation because he thought such an invention might be a possible cure for his physical ills by enabling him to draw upon the higher powers of his mind.

He said he’d found out about this after reading a book called Saved by the Light by Dannion Brinkley and Paul Perry. The title sounded familiar to me but I couldn’t remember anything about it.

‘This guy was struck by lightning,’ he explained. ‘He was an engineer and had the skills to make this kind of bed. He had an NDE. He was sent back to produce this bed. Only he didn’t do so straightaway so he had another NDE and was told to get on with it. I call them e-beds for short. You’ve probably read it and know all this already.’

He added that Brinkley claimed the beds were able to induce out-of-body experiences (OBEs) such that two people could communicate telepathically with each other. He seemed to accept these claims as valid.

‘I’ve read about someone who was struck by lightning but he was an arms manufacturer. Doesn’t sound like the same guy, and I’ve heard nothing about an electronic bed.’

Anyway the conversation began to fizzle out shortly after this. I made him lunch and we walked to town together afterwards. We agreed to meet up again soon and went our separate ways. But the connection I’d made with the man struck by lightning kept crackling and sparking away in my mind as I walked on.

I didn’t get the time to follow up on it till the next day.

Initially, when I looked the following day, I couldn’t find any reference to any kind of ‘e-bed’ on the net. Then I thought I’d check my shelves for the book. It had sounded so familiar I might just have read it and lost track.

Good grounds for not buying the package?

NDE books

All my NDE books are in one place and sure enough, it was there – I’d read the book. The familiar account unfolded as I read it. My conviction that it must have been in Ken Ring’s book Lessons from the Light bit the dust. I had thought he was an arms manufacturer but in fact he claims to have been a soldier and, post-discharge, in special ops. My mistake has even found its way into one of my poems. My unchecked memory at fault again! How could I have forgotten what I actually read, and transmuted it into something so different. I’ve explored that question before so I won’t go over that ground again, though it is disturbing to realize that I don’t even listen to myself.

Basically, I respect my friend’s integrity – there are few people with more – but I don’t trust his judgement – I’ve come not to trust my own judgement so why should I not question other people’s? The fact that my friend had been in the army and not retained this part of the story and recreated Brinkley as an engineer mirrored my mistake as a retired psychologist in missing evidence of psychopathology in his younger days and morphing him into an arms dealer.

More than enough cause to give full rein to my inner sceptic about e-beds and OBEs at the very least.

The description of his history prior to the NDE makes him sound as if he might have been some kind of sociopath. He may have chosen to present himself that way to make his transformation all the more dramatic. (There were other suspicious aspects to his account as my subsequent researches would show and I’ll discuss in a moment.) Here’s a quote from his own description of himself in case you don’t believe me about the possible pathology (pages 12-13).

Once in sixth grade, the teacher asked me to stop disrupting class. When I refused, she grabbed my arm and began marching me towards the principal’s office. As we walked out of the classroom, I pulled loose and hit her with an uppercut that knocked her to the ground. As she held her bleeding nose, I walked myself to the principal’s office. As I explained to my parents, I didn’t mind going to the office, I just didn’t want to be pulled there by a teacher.

We lived next door to the junior high school I attended, and I could sit on the porch and watch the kids in the playground on the days that I was suspended from school. One day I was sitting there when a group of girls came to the fence and started making fun of me. I wasn’t going to take that. I went into the house, got my brother’s shot gun, and loaded it with rock salt. Then I came back out and shot the girls in the back as they fled, screaming.

He also claims that he went on to act as a sniper for the US military – an army hitman. His worst outrage, according to his account, was blowing up a hotel, killing 50 innocent people in order to take out one target person.

What was I dealing with here? Did an NDE really change a sociopath into an empathic caring individual, if so that was amazing in itself, e-bed or no e-bed. Was he creating a myth for his own advantage to sell his books and readings, psychopath or no psychopath? Or maybe this was another example of what more and more people are claiming, that there is a positive side to psychopathy, and the lightning strike brought it out in his case, NDE or no NDE.

I really needed to investigate further.

First of all, I found the e-bed via an account of Ron Moody’s (see post):

Dannion claims that during his near-death experience, otherworldly beings showed him a design for an electronic bed with healing powers. They instructed him to build this device and to install it in his healing centers. I have seen several models of this bed from beyond. They are comfortable recliners with built-in headsets that play tape-recorded music through the body by bone conduction. When I tried one of the beds, I found its effects indistinguishable from hypnagogia.

The most he accuses Brinkley of is sensationalising his story the better to gain the credibility that helps his good cause, hospice care. He sees it as harmless.

To sum up, Dannion Brinkley’s story appeals because it tries so many colorful threads of popular paranormality together into one entertainment package.

I want to make it clear that I am writing in the abstract, and that, personally, I find Betty and Dannion to be lovable and endearing people who do good things for others. I understand, for example, that Dannion recruits volunteers for hospice during his dramatic and exciting talks with large audiences, and gets quite a few of them. I don’t question either of their motives for a second. I am merely pointing out here what makes them listened to.

Problems with the Core NDE

Waking in morgue

Waking in the morgue (for source of image see link)

Others, I discovered, were not so forgiving.

For a start there is this more scathing scepticism from Roy Rivenburg with help from Paul Dean in the LA Times:

[Dannion] Brinkley says his life review covered “at least 6,000 fistfights” that he had between fifth and 12th grades. That averages out to two brawls a day, nonstop for eight years, making Brinkley the Wilt Chamberlain of schoolyard pugilism.

He also says he was a Marine Corps sniper during the Vietnam War, dispatched to Cambodia and Laos to assassinate enemy officers and politicians. But military records show that Pfc. Brinkley was never a sniper, never saw combat, indeed never left the United States during his 18 months in the service.

He was a truck driver stationed in Atlanta.

Brinkley declines to offer any evidence of overseas duty, saying the government is covering up his record because it is classified. But several sources inside and outside the military (including ex-Marines involved in the same covert operations Brinkley claims a role in) say his tale is full of holes and that the so-called secret files are all public.

To be fair, I can’t find the 6,000 fights quote in my copy of the book so maybe Rivenburg is overstating his case as well though in the opposite direction.

There are further questions though (see link) about the facts around his physical ‘death.’ This is far more damaging to the whole issue of establishing the validity of NDEs as a whole. I will quote at some length from this article.

In his book, “Saved By the Light,” Dannion recounts his story and embellishes upon the details [of his NDE]. He claims that he was dead for 28 minutes. During this time, he floated above his body, watching as his wife attempted to revive him in the moments after the lightning strike. He says he heard a paramedic pronounce him dead. . . . . And then, he woke up in the hospital just before being taken to the morgue.

It is an incredible story; one that saw his book at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, as well as spawning a highly rated television movie. Dannion has since used his notoriety to become a psychic, charging $250 for a half hour reading [link], . . . . But if his story were true, we can reasonably expect that he would have told a similar one in the days following his injury. But it’s not, because he didn’t. . . .

Carl Langley was a newspaper reporter for the Augusta Herald at the time of Dannion’s ordeal. He interviewed him, and in the September 19th 1975 edition, published a story about the incident titled “Phone Call Almost Cost Him His Life.” The story as Mr. Brinkley told it then is dramatically different than the one he tells now in his books and interviews. Remember how Dannion said he was dead for 28 minutes, and the paramedic pronounced him dead? Langley’s newspaper article says otherwise:

“Frantically, Mrs. Brinkley began pounding away on her husband’s chest, stopping only to grasp his tongue and pull it away from his windpipe so he could breathe.

“‘I was out for a few minutes, and she saved my life,’ Danny said. With breathing restored, Mrs. Brinkley called the paramedics.”

But there’s more. Remember, Dannion also tells people that he woke up in the hospital later, after having traveled to heaven and talking to angels. . . . Dr. Gilmore Eaves says he was at Dannion’s side within an hour of his brush with lightning. . .

“When I saw him he was completely lucid,” Dr. Eaves said. . . . Nor did he ever tell him about seeing a light or seeing a cathedral.

When Brinkley was filmed being confronted with this evidence by a reporter in the video ‘Dr Death’ he laughs it off, explaining that he was young and embarrassed and, “wasn’t gonna start ranting and raving about a near-death experience.”

Later still he responded in a video to these doubts. The report deals with these also and makes a particularly telling point at the end. For the point-by-point commentary see the original story.

But the film “Reverend Death” came out in 2008. It is three years later now, and Dannion has had some time to make up a new version of what happened. In a video posted on his website on May 18th of 2011, Dannion now claims to not remember much about the days of the events in question, which is funny since he has never had problems remembering in radio and television interviews before. . . . . It is also interesting that he has waited until after Mr. Langley and Dr. Eaves have passed away to say all this.

The report comes to a clear conclusion.

He has invented a fictional story about an Out-of-Body experience to sell books. He has given people false hope about heaven, angels, and crystal cities, and has made a fortune doing it. . . . .  When confronted with his fictions, he changes his story or infers that everyone else is lying about what happened.

Where does that leave us?

light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel032111Since I don’t have access to his medical records (nor does anyone else as far as I can tell) there’s no way I can come to a definitive conclusion on this matter – an endemic problem with much NDE research except prospective studies, I’m afraid. Whatever the exact status of his NDE story is, all this undermining background noise would make the uncritical quoting of his NDE experience in any piece on the subject somewhat unsettling.

For example, though Fenwick, in his excellent book, is sceptical of the prophecies Brinkley claims to have been given he accepts the core account as valid (The Truth in the Light – pages 240-241):

As the book was published in 1994 is difficult to comment on predictions reported in it about events which happened before this date, events such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the Gulf War. The dates of these events – 1986 and 1990 – and many other pre-publication happenings came into Dannion’s head with pinpoint accuracy as he saw them on his spiritual tele-screen. But, as tends to be the way with prophecies, those events due to take place after 1994 are foretold with less precision.

Interestingly he speaks as Moody does of Betty Eade and Brinkley in the same breath. He does so in a way that brushes to one side the reservations and focuses upon what he believes is the core of truth (page 241):

. . . . if we pare are away the more extravagant aspects of these two experiences we are left with a great deal that the rings true – the tunnel, the light, the feelings of joy and tranquillity.

The books I trust the most do not mention Brinkley at all, as for instance with Mark Fox and Pim van Lommel, or at least only in passing as in the case of Nancy Evans Bush.

So, where does this leave me now?

I still feel the balance of the evidence is in favour of the validity of the NDE in general even if we do not yet know exactly what it is telling us about life after death. My faith in that has not been shaken. Mario Beauregard allowed the posting two years ago of a clear and coherent summary of the current state of play. Fox and Bush, in particular, convincingly address the difficult issues surrounding the NDE with rigour and clarity. Pim van Lommel bases his conclusions on a rich wealth of prospective data. Charlatans can be found in all walks of life, though perhaps more so where the paranormal is concerned, and often profit at the expense of a dispassionate investigation of the facts: this should not be allowed to cloud the truth completely.

My view concerning Brinkley is that, if his account is in anyway spiced up or fundamentally incorrect, the honourable thing for him to do would be to set the record straight before he dies. After all, the main thrust of his first NDE concerns being forced to experience the pain his actions had caused others. If his NDE account is in anyway valid, he must therefore recognize the imperative of coming clean as his distortions of the truth would otherwise continue damaging many people, both those who believe them because they will have based at least some of their important decisions upon a fairy tale, and perhaps more so those who don’t because the doubts created by his fabrications will have kept them away from the truth.

If he never had any such experience and simply invented it for profit, then I don’t expect that argument would hold much water and he’ll carry on regardless. If his account is true in every detail, which seems doubtful, then he need do nothing more than carry on as he is.

As for me this post is a different kind of wake-up call.  I need to take care myself not to use dubious evidence to support my views for fear of discrediting my own case. It’s hard to remain so consistently vigilant but it looks like it’s a necessary precaution.

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supraliminal

I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
And all her train were hurl’d.

(From The World by Henry Vaughan)

In the previous post I described the experience of being dynamited into an awareness of subliminal forces operating below the lower threshold of my consciousness. Now I need to turn, in this attempt to explain why this whole issue of filters and thresholds fascinates me so much, to my experiences of higher consciousness.

I need to clarify right from the start that I am a slightly disappointed mystic manqué, so anyone hoping for stories about the higher flights of mysticism probably needs to go somewhere else to find them. However, there are aspects of my journey from the basement of my brain to something somewhat closer to the heaven of true understanding that might reward attention.

Quest

There is a 13 year gap between the closest I have ever got to a mystical experience and the breakthrough I described earlier into the cellar of my mind. Those 13 years covered a journey through further breathwork in a therapeutic community in the Lake District close to Wordsworth’s birthplace. In the end I remained stuck at the same level as I have described in the previous post – floating endlessly in the tank of tears just beneath the surface of my consciousness.

So there was then a disillusioned return to the mainstream. This was not simply the result of a frustration at my own lack of progress. I also saw that a few others who came to the commune for help, some of them seriously in need, went away in a worse state than they came after a fruitless few days in a tent at the bottom of the garden. I ended up packing my few belongings, leaving the commune and driving back to London, taking with me one of the people I felt we had failed to where he would hopefully find more effective help and friendship. I know that my having a car is evidence of an even worse attachment to the world I was affecting to despise than that of the dervish who dashed back from the mountains to the palace he had been staying at to get the begging bowl he’d left behind while the prince he had persuaded to leave his palace and come with him looked on in complete amazement, but it was at least the means by which I got someone else as well as myself out of an unpleasant and unhelpful predicament.

I was also strongly motivated by a desire to have more chance to work therapeutically with more people more effectively. I realised that this could not be done from the outside of society looking in as I had previously thought. It was better to be on the inside where most other people and many more resources were to be found.

I spent several years working in social services at a day centre. I rapidly realised that social work was not for me – too many forms to fill in and court appearances to make. Even now, I always fill in forms first of all in pencil before I commit to ink, as I always make at least one major mistake on every form, no matter how simple. As for the combination in court of drama and detail, that was always too big a stretch for me. I prefer working behind the scenes and am purblind to details.

In any case, I was far more interested in what goes on between people’s ears. So, in spite of some misgivings about the experimental side of the course, I enrolled to do a psychology degree in the evenings at Birkbeck College. I also participated in a Transactional Analysis/Gestalt Group for a year, and then began learning meditation at the same time as qualifying as a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Surrey.

While I think the meditation helped me stay grounded as I juggled a wide range of different commitments throughout that process, and while I certainly found the psychologically penetrating insights of Buddhism a humbling and effective vaccine against the hubris of scientism that infected my profession, I cannot boast of any transcendental states – just of a relative ease in maintaining a simple calm unflustered state of mind under stress and occasional access to a tingling energy which pervaded by whole being for brief periods. I still committed major blunders from time to time but I got through to the end of the qualification experience relatively unscathed, thanks in part to the ballast meditation provided to keep my mind’s boat stable in rough seas.

Shrine of the Bab

At the end of that long journey, triggered by a visit to Hendon library, a story I will share another time, I started to tread the Baha’i path. My first three hour visit to the Baha’i Centre in London induced a buzzing energetic state of mind which lasted for a fortnight and which hours of meditation would have failed to achieve for me. I read my way through a bagful of books with only about four hours sleep a night – those close to me who know my aptitude for sleep will testify to how remarkable that was.

Two years after that I married and soon after the birth of our son we all went as a family to Israel on pilgrimage in 1987. We stayed in Haifa and visited Akka.  The Baha’i Holy places are located there and this is where the experiences I want to describe took place.

Pilgrimage

I was unable to enter the Shrine of the Bab the first time I saw it. It was evening and the Shrine was closed so I had to stand some distance away, as the sun was beginning to set, and lean against an iron gate. I found myself uncontrollably sobbing. This was not the pool of tears I was so used to from my encounter group experiences. These were tears of profound relief. The best way I can describe how I felt is to say that it was like an exile coming home after many long years of believing he would never see his longed-for native land again.

This of course does not constitute conclusive evidence of any kind of mystical reality. It was an intense experience but can be explained, if you wish, without evoking other realms of reality than the material. Nonetheless, for me personally this was the beginning of a completely unexpected sequence of reactions to the whole experience of pilgrimage. I was as unprepared for the power of this sense of return as I had been for the breakthrough to my mind’s basement all those years earlier. That I had not been anticipating any such response suggests there was a break through of some kind from across a threshold. I cannot prove it was a breakthrough from above but it felt as though it was.

The following day I stood at the door of the Shrine of the Bab totally unable to cross that particular threshold. It was not until several others had entered before me, while I stood there dithering, that I could bring myself to go inside. Then, somehow, I managed to force myself to enter. Completely contrary to my expectation at the time, I felt waves of immense power pass over me and the whole air vibrate with an irresistible intensity.

I had expected a completely different experience altogether. I had expected something like a warm glow of love to envelope me. It would have fitted more with the sense I had of the Bab’s personality. Indiscussing the possible objective validity of near death experiences, Mark Fox attaches considerable importance to the fact that, in many reports, what the person experienced was very different from what his culture had led him to expect. That this was also true, though in a less specific way, of this experience prompts me to feel that there was something outside my own projections at work here, something to do with an objective out-there quality of the Bab’s spiritual reality. It was this combination of intensity and unexpectedness that leads to me feel this quite strongly. It was also a very different feeling from the one I had been engulfed by when I stood by the gate the previous evening. This would have primed me for some kind of repetition of the same thing: what actually occurred was very different.

Each Shrine that I stepped into on that pilgrimage had its own particular impact. The Shrine of the Master glowed gently with a warm acceptance, much as I had thought it would. So expectations were not contradicted here. However, the Shrine of Baha’u’llah at Bahji, on the other hand, also totally defied my expectations. Here was where I had expected the raw power, but felt instead enveloped in a loving embrace of such unconditional completeness that I sobbed uncontrollably once more.

I won’t test your patience by repeating the same line of reasoning again but for me it applies here also, and for two out of three experiences in the Shrines to go against expectation so intensely confirms for me my sense that there was something outside my own projections that was shaping that impact. I was not aware then and cannot recall now any influences from other pilgrims that might have had the effects upon my reactions that would have been necessary to go so strongly against the grain of my expectations.

I am sure you are all already aware that I have no expectation that these accounts of my experiences will necessarily persuade you to come to the same conclusions as I have on the basis of them. I have shared them as a way of beginning to explain why I am so fascinated by the borderlands of consciousness and what might lie beyond, and why I keep reading in search of evidence that might point ever more clearly towards their true significance. I tend to shy away from such personal sharing because I am all too aware that its power to shape a sense of reality does not extend beyond my skull. Still, maybe the risk was worth taking.

Shrine Entrance Bahji

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Levels of Consciousness

When I first read Jenny Wade’s book, Changes of Mind, I was carried away when she hypothesises that the highest possible stage of the development of human consciousness is Unity Consciousness. As ‘unity’ is a Bahá’í mantra, this was enough in itself to guarantee my complete attention and disarm my disagreements.

But there was more. This level of development was the last of nine. In Arabic numerology nine is the numerical value of the word at the core of the name of this Revelation: ‘Bahá.’ I was entranced. I wrote ‘Brilliant!’ inside the front flyleaf after I’d finished the book.

Because my recent reading of Dabrowski (see three earlier posts) has sensitised me to the possibility of categorising levels of consciousness and perhaps even character development, I decided to re-read her book.

I have decided this time round that it is brilliant (for different reasons though) but flawed.

Still brilliant after all these years

Why do I think this? My reasons fall into three main groups for present purposes: near death experiences, lateralisation of brain function, and the IMG_0493drivers of transitions from one level to the next.

The first topic is, in my view her weakest, and why I feel the book is flawed. Her treatment of this topic does not stand up well after reading Mark Fox’s thorough examination of the issues.

Her reflections on lateralisation and its relationship with the development of consciousness are intriguing and will probably prompt me to revisit Iain McGilchrist to check them out more thoroughly, but as it stands I resonate strongly to what she says. She maps out her levels of consciousness against the back drop of lateralisation and mounts a compelling argument for the value but extreme difficulty of achieving a proper balance in our lives between the operation of the two hemispheres of the brain. But more of that in the next post.

Her most interesting observations to me at present relate to the way that her model maps closely onto Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration in key respects. She analyses, in a more close-grained fashion than Dabrowski, which kind of conflict and discomfort spurs us to move up from the comfort zone of our present level of consciousness to the next step up the ladder of awareness.

bohm

David Bohm

It is probably only fair to add that I am completely incapable of properly evaluating the foundation of her thesis in Bohm’s work on the implicate order as I simply do not understand Bohm’s thinking well enough. You may well wish to stop reading at this point if you feel I have totally disqualified myself from commenting on her other lines of thought.

My simple summary of what I think she means in terms of Bohm is this. There is a hidden order and a visible one. Both are inextricably intertwined. The visible, or perhaps more accurately, the accessible order is the material world as we commonly experience it. The hidden order (though transcendent, timeless and placeless) is also expressed in and through the physical world here and now. Our highest self exists fully realised already in the hidden order but remains invisible to almost all of us. The purpose of our lives is to come to a realisation and expression of and identification with that self, consciously in the visible order. When we do so all ego and desire will fall away, and self in any sense we currently understand it fades away completely. If we fail, in her view we are reincarnated again to have another go. Moving up the levels of consciousness is primarily about cleansing the lens of perception so that we can experience in its true nature what is currently hidden from us.

For those of you who have continued reading, we need to look slightly more closely at the first of the themes I mentioned, and later at the other two in even greater detail.

Near-Death Experiences (NDEs):

One of the key problems here is that she fails to recognise, from the evidence available to her at the time, that NDE-type experiences are not uniquely linked to close encounters with death as she contends (page 324) on the basis of evidence drawn from Morse. Fox’s access to the RERC data enabled him to recognise the common elements between so-called NDE experiences and other mystical and spiritual states where there was neither a threat to life nor any kind of trauma. She does though accept (page 239), but more cautiously than Fox, that ‘near-death consciousness . . . appears to share some characteristics of Transcendent consciousness.’

She also rather too uncritically accepts a long list of core elements (pages 225-226), something about which Fox’s critical re-examination has caused me to be rather more sceptical.

Given that NDEs are very much secondary to her main thesis and her treatment of the issue covers a mere 24 pages out of her total of 341, it is perhaps not too surprising that it falls short of Fox’s focused and thorough treatment.

It certainly does not seriously blemish the overall case she is seeking to make. More of that next time.

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