Gackenbach, J.I. (1992). Childhood Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness:
Literature Review and Theoretical Integration. An unpublished paper which was previously found at www.spiritwatch.ca.
I was at a Sundance with my great-grandmother who was blind. The music came on and just made me want to dance. I saw a big tall clear man where the center pole was, he was singing and dancing. Everyone around me was so serious and he made it so happy. So I got up and walked over to him and held his hand and I danced with him.
This simple tale was told to me by a 30 year old Cree woman from Alberta about the first time she walked at age 9 months (Gackenbach, 1991). Although this is a remarkable and beautiful experience can we really take it at face value? For D. it is not an isolated story rather an early remarkable memory from a continuity of consciousness about which she comments, “I don’t know why it is important to remember that part of my life but it is so picture clear in my mind.” She is not alone in telling these stories from very early childhood. Consider this from Franklin Jones, until he was 2 or 3 years old he recalls that he lived in a world of “sheer light and delight.” Da Free John, as he has come to be known in his role as a religious leader, describes that early state:
As a baby I remember crawling around inquisitively with an incredible sense of joy, light, and freedom in the middle of my head that was bathed in energies moving freely down from above, up, around and down through my body and my heart. It was an expanding sphere of joy from the heart. And I was a radiant form, a source of energy, bliss, and light. I was the Power of Reality, a direct enjoyment and communication. I was the same as everyone and everything, except it became clear that others were unaware of the thing itself.
Perhaps Natives and the religiously inclined are predisposed to these experiences, but what of this from a housewife and mother of two in Spokane, Washington (Gray, 1988):
Remembering back as young as six or seven months of age, I was afraid to sleep that was an, as yet, undefined state in the face of which I felt helpless with fear… it was in response to those nightmares that I developed the “skill” of lucid dreaming [knowing you are dreaming while you are dreaming] … at age two I remember the nightmares becoming more visual. I tried to find a way to tell if this state was “real” or not, if this was a dream because I was experiencing feelings of hurt and pain. I remember being very angry when people would say, “Oh’ it’s just a dream it won’t hurt you!” I became more aware that my feelings had a strong influence on my nightmares but not as much of an impact while awake. (p. 98)
But still can we really believe such accounts when to the vast majority of us those early infant years are lost, revived only by tales from mom of the time she found us at the top of the bookshelf before we could even walk, climbing kings of the living room. We are told that before age 2 or 3 we didn’t have enough language or cognitive structures to really remember.
These antidotes challenge our notions of the development of mind. They suggest a substrata of mind which here-to-fore has not been given adequate domain in the world view of psychology which conceptualizes development as due to complex interactions of nature with nurture. This substrata is consciousness about which Chamberlain (1990) notes:
in the light of evidence from the farther reaches of memory, accessed in nonordinary states of consciousness . . . we can even now ask ourselves: Is memory perhaps an innate and ageless endowment of human consciousness?
The most recent models of memory recognize that it is a complexity, not one system but different ones which are not always unified (Tulving, 1985; Gazzaniga, 1985). Furthermore, although memory can be limited in altered states of consciousness it is sometimes remarkably reliable and clearly beyond previously accepted boundaries (Chamberlain, 1981). In fact, we are increasingly becoming aware that the human infant is much more perceptually and cognitively sophisticated than previously thought. For instance, the neurological “wiring” needed for learning is present at birth including the ability to recognize mother voice (Bee, 1992).
But to say that there is a capacity to have such memories does not fully address the nature of psychospiritual experiences in childhood. It is their nature which is the focus of this chapter. That is, I will consider a related set of psychospiritual experiences which have been reported in childhood and will argue that central to them is the concept of pure consciousness (PC). I will argue that experiences of and approximations of pure consciousness are not only possible in childhood but along with Alexander et al. (1990), access to pure consciousness and related experiences facilitates development in all domains at all ages.
I will begin with a discussion of pure consciousness as the essence of what has been called the mystical experience. One of the key markers of PC is lucid/witnessing sleep/dreams, which will be shown to be related to several other transpersonal experiences which involve transformations of the construction of the self. As each type of experience is discussed its emergence in childhood will also be reviewed. Finally, theoretical models of these reconstruction’s of self will be considered.
- Lucid/Witnessing Dreams/Sleep and Pure Consciousness
In order to gain understanding it’s necessary to place things in their series thus I will now look at closely related experiences to PC. It is useful to identify the similarities and differences between related experiences in order to understand the common state from which they may derive and/or common mechanisms or structures. Several experiences may be related to PC experiences. I will argue that these primarily include consciousness in sleep such as a lucid dream, which is a dream where you know you are dreaming while you are dreaming, and witnessing dreams/sleep, which has a quiet, detached quality to said consciousness in sleep/dreams. These experiences have the quality of de-embedding or turning around on our normal cognitive framing of self, here and now which is typical of dreaming and waking. Alexander et al. (1990) argue witnessing sleep is one of the primary unambiguous signals of the stabilization of higher states of consciousness. Building on Alexander’s work, Gackenbach (1991; 1992; & Bosveld, 1989) has made a detailed argument elsewhere of how lucid dreams are bridges to the pure conscious experience a first step on the de-embedding, unity path.
Alexander and Gackenbach (Alexander, 1987; Alexander et al., 1985; Gackenbach, Cranson, & Alexander, 1986; Gackenbach, 1992) suggest a developmental relationship between these two forms of sleep consciousness with lucidity emerging prior to witnessing. By way of validating this proposed lucid-witnessing developmental relationship Gackenbach (unpublished data reported in Gackenbach & Bosveld, 1989) found in a group of 80 TM meditators that prelucidity and lucidity occurred most frequently followed by witnessing dreams and that in those who had received instruction in the TM Sidhi program (an advanced technique) there was an increase in witnessing of dreams and deep sleep over those who had not been so instructed (parts of this data are reported in Gackenbach, Cranson & Alexander, 1986). In this section I will briefly review the work relating lucidity first to meditation then to witnessing. Both sets of connections include physiological as well as psychological aspects. Finally, lucid dreaming experiences in childhood will be examined.
A1. Lucidity-Meditation Link
From virtually every level of analysis parallels, and in some cases potential causal agents, can be identified supporting the association of dream lucidity to the practice of meditation and thus on to the experience of pure consciousness. There are also now several studies of meditators and lucid dreamers which reveal important psychological and physiological parallels.
Some of the individual difference variables associated with the practice of meditation have also been found to be true of individuals who frequently dream lucidly while controlling for dream recall frequency. These include field independence (lucidity: Gackenbach, Heilman, Boyt, & LaBerge, 1985; meditation: Pelletier, 1974; Jedrczak, 1984),creativity (lucidity: Gackenbach, Curren, LaBerge, Davidson, & Maxwell, 1983; meditation: Orme-Johnson & Haynes, 1981);lower anxiety (lucidity: Gackenbach et al., 1983; meditation: Alexander, 1982); absorption (lucidity: Gackenbach, Cranson, & Alexander, 1986; meditation: Alexander, 1978; 1982); and private self-consciousness(lucidity: Gackenbach et al., 1983; meditation, West, 1982).
(The meditation findings are reviewed in Alexander, Boyer, & Alexander, 1987, while the lucid dreaming findings are reviewed in Snyder & Gackenbach, 1988). A strong finding in both the lucidity (for review see Snyder & Gackenbach, 1988) and meditation (Reed, 1978; Faber, Saayman, & Touyz, 1978) literature’s is that both are associated with enhanced dream recall despite decreases in REM time as the result of meditation (Banquet & Sailhan, 1976; Becker & Herter, 1973; Meirsman, 1989).
Of particular importance is that the waking practice of meditation is associated with the frequent experiences of lucidity in dreams (Hunt & McLeod, 1984; Reed, 1978; Sparrow, 1976) even when dream recall differences are controlled (Gackenbach et al., 1986; Gackenbach, Cranson, & Alexander, 1988). Further, reports of consciousness during deep sleep are related to clear experiences of transcending during meditation (reported in Alexander et al., 1987) as well as to breath suspension during meditation, the latter is thought to be a key physiological indicate of the experience of “pure” consciousness (Kesterson, 1985).
On a physiological level of analysis is further support for the meditation-lucidity link with the Hoffman or H-reflex, an electrically evoked monosynaptic spinal reflex which has been viewed as an indicate of the flexibility of central nervous system. Enhanced H-reflex suppression in REM (during lucid dreaming; Brylowski, 1986) and recovery in waking (as a function of meditation; Dillbeck, Orme-Johnson & Wallace, 1981; Haynes, Hebert, Reber & Orme-Johnson, 1976) both indicate a nervous system which is functioning maximally in accord with the needs of the state of the organism.
The EEG work with dream lucidity is unfortunately fairly limited at this point with the bulk having been done by Ogilvie, Hunt and associates (Ogilvie, Hunt, Sawicki, & McGowan, 1978; Ogilvie, Hunt, Tyson, Lucescu, & Jenkins, 1982; Ogilvie, Vieira & Small, 1988; Tyson, Ogilvie, & Hunt, 1984; Hunt & Ogilvie, 1988). The Ogilvie and Hunt group found, consistent with the meditation literature (West, 1980; Taneli & Krahne, 1987), variations in alpha as a function of stage of lucidity. Specifically, they found increased alpha in prelucid REM periods and early in lucidity and have likened this to the access phases of waking meditation.
West (1980) has pointed out that a more sophisticated examination of EEG changes in meditation should include the investigation of EEG coherence (COH). Meditation has been shown to increase COH especially in the alpha and theta bands relative to eyes closed, resting conditions. This work has been carried further to examine the relationship of COH to specific meditation experiences (for review see French & Beaumont, 1984). Farrow and Herbert (1982) reported that experiences of “transcending” to the state of pure consciousness during TM were associated with alpha, theta and beta global COH. In a recent paper (Gackenbach, 1992) I have argued that in terms of frontal leads, REM is interhemispherically coherent in the theta range relative to NREM, thus making it the state in which meditation like experiences (lucidity) would be most likely to occur. Several investigators have shown that lucidity primarily emerges out of REM (see LaBerge, 1988, for a review).
Clearly on several levels of analyses dream lucidity parallels waking meditation. Although lucidity can and does emerge spontaneously in nonmeditating populations, given these associations its not surprising that the average frequency of such experiences is considerably less than that in meditating adults (Gackenbach et al., 1986; Gackenbach et al., 1988).
A2. Lucidity Witnessing Relationship
Although the association of lucidity to meditation can be made, of primary importance is the association of lucidity in dreams to witnessing dreams/sleep as the latter is defined as the experience of PC in sleep.
I shall now consider on a physiological level of analysis the relationship of lucidity to witnessing. Meirsman (1989) studied six advanced TM meditators (TM-Sidhi techniques) who reported witnessing sleep on the average of half the night. He argued that the practice of the TM-Sidhi’s results in the “maintenance of … alertness even during the inertia of deep night sleep” and that further ” ‘witnessing’ of one’s own sleep during the night seems to be the subjective experience of a physiologically more efficient (REM) sleep.” Meirsman examined the incidence of an eye movement ratio (high frequency REM’s/low frequency REM’s [HF/LF]) from uninterrupted REM sleep, that is no prearranged eye movement signals were required. This ratio had been shown to be, “associated with cerebral maturation (age, intelligence, learning ability) and endocrinological maturation (age, second half of ovulatory cycle, second half of pregnancy).” Meirsman points out that this measure can be “defined as the capacity of the brain to structure ‘order’ from the ‘noisy stream’ of information.” This researcher found that the REM sleep of the meditators who were conscious during it was more order-creating (higher HF/LF ratios) then that of the “unconscious” nonmeditators.
Unfortunately meditation practice in this study is confounded with reports of witnessing. According to the teachings of this meditation practice, a result of the practice will be sleep consciousness. Although spontaneous occurrences at this frequency (half the night) may occur, they are so rare as to be virtually nonexistent. Whereas my colleagues and I have shown in five samples that such high rates are not as unheard of in groups of TM meditators (Gackenbach et al., 1986; Gackenbach et al., 1988). It may be nearly impossible to separate sleep consciousness at this rate from the practice of meditation.
The most reliable physiological finding in the lucid dreaming literature is the association of high REM density to the lucid state in REM. Likewise, Meirsman reported that the total REM density was also significantly higher for the TM-Sidhi group when compared to controls. LaBerge (personal communication, March, 1989) compared the REM density of twelve lucid dreamers to that of Meirsman’s six meditators. Although the means were about the same the variability among the lucid dreamers was quite high whereas it was notably small among the meditators. In other words, although both lucidity and witnessing (as a product of meditation) evidence the same average increase in REM density the meditators were more consistent across individuals, on a physiological level of analysis, in their experience.
Further in terms of the work of the Ogilvie and Hunt group who reported alpha in prelucid and early lucid episodes, so too Meirsman reports a large amplitude and lower frequency of alpha activity as associated with a higher HF/LF ratio and thus witnessing sleep. And more recently in pilot data on a long term TM meditator who reported witnessing sleep alpha was also observed. In fact, it was commented by the EEG expert in this study that the EEG sleep record of this meditator looked like one of a meditator while transcending in waking meditation (Charles Alexander, personal communication, July, 1989). LaBerge (1985) failed to find this alpha presence as did Tyson et al. (1984). However, in both cases the failure may have been associated with the disruption of REM sleep by the eye movement signal. There is some indication that when no signal was demanded or before a signal occurred alpha is associated with consciousness in sleep of both the lucid and witnessing varieties.
I cannot say if the Meirsman subjects also evidenced more somatic arousal, such as respiration and heart rate, as has been shown with LaBerge’s lucid dreaming subjects. The single witnessing and signalling subject of Gackenbach et al. provides mixed data. On the one hand he was somatically less aroused but on the other hand his overall eye movement density was significantly less than two lucid dreamers who did not signal in the lab. Furthermore, when his heart rate, respiration and eye movement density were compared for pre and post eye movement signal differences, we found no significant pre-post signal differences for any of these variables from stages 2 or REM. However, for stage 1 eye movement and respiration showed significant pre-post signal differences. Eye movement density went up after the signal while respiration went down which together indicate the classic restful alertness claimed to occur as a result of the practice of TM.
Work on physiological associations of these states of consciousness in sleep is just beginning but early data show some physiological similarities and thus delineating the similarities and differences between lucidity and witnessing consciousness in sleep becomes important. Some understanding of this relationship can be found on psychological and phenomenological levels of analysis.
In conjunction with Cranson and Alexander (Gackenbach et al., 1986; Gackenbach et al., 1988) I have conducted several studies examining the relationship of dream lucidity to pure consciousness. The latter as expressed in the witness set during dreaming or dreamless sleep. We described each state to the subjects but by these descriptive sentences without labels:
- Lucid dreaming was described as a dream in which you are actively thinking about the fact that you are dreaming
- Witnessing dreaming was described as a dream in which you experience a quiet, peaceful, inner awareness or wakefulness completely separate from the dream.
- Witnessing in deep sleep was described as dreamless sleep in which you experience a quiet, peaceful, inner state of awareness or wakefulness.
Here are examples from the TM meditators of the three states of awareness:
LUCID DREAMING: “During a dream I will become aware of the dream as separate, then aware that I am dreaming. Then I begin to manipulate the story and the characters to create whatever situation I desire. At times, in unpleasant situations, I’ll think as the dreamer ‘I don’t have to put up with this’ and I change the dream or at least ‘back out’ of the involvement.”
WITNESSING DREAMING: “Sometimes, whatever the content of the dream is, I feel an inner tranquillity of awareness that is removed from the dream. Sometimes, I may even be caught up in the dream but the inner awareness of peace remains.”
WITNESSING DEEP SLEEP: “It is a feeling of infinite expansion and bliss and nothing else. Then I become aware that I exist but there is no individual personality. Gradually, I become aware that I am an individual but there are no details of who, where, what, when, etc. Eventually, these details fill in and I might awaken.”
We found that although meditators reported experiencing more of all three types of sleep consciousness experiences, across samples lucid dreams were experienced more frequently than either witnessing dreams or witnessing deep sleep. This finding favoring the higher incidence of lucidity relative to witnessing also held across level of dream recall and supports the notion that lucid dreams are easier to access no matter what ones training or personal skills and therefore may represent a developmentally prior state of sleep consciousness leading eventually to the experience of pure consciousness.
As reported by Alexander (1988) in order to examine the differences between these three forms of sleep consciousness we did content analyses on these sleep experience reports collected from 66 males who were very advanced in their TM meditation practice. These were selected because it was believed that their training better equipped them as a group to be able to distinguish these subtle states of mind in sleep. Some validation for this assumption was gained when it was determined that only 17% of the 66 subjects lucid dreaming reports could not be used because they were either blank or questionable. This is compared to a loss of about 50% of nonmeditating subjects for the same reasons reported in my work with nonmeditators (for a review see Snyder and Gackenbach, 1988).
Most revealing of the content categories was feelings of separateness. In lucid dreaming only 7 percent of the cases were those in which people reported feeling separateness. Whereas in the witnessing dream experience, 73 percent of the cases reported in their dream description that the dream went on, but they were separate from it. On the other hand, dream control was much more frequent during lucid dreaming (47%) than witnessing dreams (5%). This is consistent with the claims that dream lucidity typically involves active information processing and manipulation of dream content. This is in contrast to the experience of pure consciousness where the Self does not act, but silently observes the changes occurring within waking, dreaming, and sleep.
Although each form of sleep consciousness was largely differentially characterized there were some characteristics which weren’t so individual. In both lucid dreaming (11%) and witnessing dreaming (12%) experiences of the dream body flying were reported. Likewise state transitions were mentioned in both lucidity (20%) and witnessing deep sleep (55%) but not witnessing dreaming (2%).
Our work supports the notion that these three states of consciousness in sleep are qualitatively as well as quantitatively distinct existing along a developmental continuum with lucid dreaming emerging prior to witnessing dreaming or deep sleep. In fact, 19% of these elite TM meditators spontaneously mentioned the developmental relationship between lucidity and witnessing dreaming with comments such as witnessing dreaming, “is a clearer experience of … [lucid dreaming]. The sense of self is more full and transcends the dream completely. It is large Self.”
Alexander (1988) explains that, “the significance of the experience of pure consciousness is that it provides the foundation for the development of stable higher stages of consciousness or ‘enlightenment’. Witnessing of deep sleep indicates that the inner wakefulness of pure consciousness is now beginning to be maintained even during the most extreme conditions of mental inertia dreamless sleep. Indeed … the first stable higher stage of consciousness termed ‘cosmic consciousness’ is defined as the continual maintenance of pure consciousness throughout the 24-hour cycle of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep.”
A3. Lucid Dreaming Experiences in Children
Do children have lucid or witnessing experiences in sleep? There are several ways that we can answer this question, through self reports by children or adult memories, and through sleep laboratory inquiries.
Although there is ample anecdotal evidence that children can have these sleep experiences (LaBerge, 1985), only two studies have systematically examined such adult recall. Millar (1990) administered a questionnaire to 139 self professed psychic practitioners asking them about their psychological experience associated with the development of their psychic abilities. A large percentage (41%) said their lucid dream experiences began in childhood with most of the remaining reporting adult starts. Hunt (1991) recently reported on similar survey data on meditating and nonmeditating populations. He found that meditators reported more childhood experiences of lucid dreaming than nonmeditators but found no group differences in adolescence or adulthood frequencies.
Hunt, Gervais, Shearing-Johns, and Travis (1991) found high lucid dreaming frequency in childhood as part of a cluster of other positive transpersonal experiences during the same period. This cluster was associated in nonmeditators with superior spatial skills and lower neuroticism. In this study, especially high childhood levels of lucid dreaming were reported in meditators for whom many other healthful benefits have been noted. It is not possible to say to what extent this was a lucid dreaming/transpersonal predisposition or the practice of individual meditation. Although most meditation research concludes the latter, none that I know of has controlled for the childhood incidence of transpersonal experiences.
Only one study has validated the authenticity of lucid experiences in children. Armstrong Hickey (1988), surveyed 100 10 to 12 year old children about their lucid dreaming experiences. She chose this age range because of the work of Foulkes (1982), who found in his extensive work with children’s dreams that at about 10 years they make a conceptual leap and come to recognize that they are creating the dream while awake.
Sixty-two percent of Armstrong Hickey’s subjects reported remembering at least one lucid dreaming incident with the largest frequency of lucid dreams at the 10 year old level (63%) and the lowest at the 12 year-old level (36%). This drop in self-reported incidence may be that by age twelve children are more fully aware of western cultural norms that they should ignore dreams as unimportant.
She then went on to conduct a six week training program with 13 of these children. All but one of them reported at least one lucid dream during the training. This is illustrative:
I saw a giant Mickey Mouse that was pink and orange and yellow. At first I was scared. Then I realized that that couldn’t be true, and I must be dreaming. I thought that it was funny then. I got to be as big as it.
In the firmest verification of childhood potential for lucid dreaming she took four of the children into the sleep laboratory and instructed them to signal with a prearranged set of eye movements when they knew they were dreaming. In four nights of sleep laboratory data for these four subjects, two of them were able to do this with their reports upon waking concurring with the eye movement signals identified on the polygraph.
One 10-year old girl was especially skilled. Although she reported only one lucid dream per year prior to Armstrong Hickey’s study she had the most lucid dreams during the training program (n=7) and five signal verified lucid dreams while in the sleep laboratory. Armstrong Hickey (personnel communication, Oct. 1991) commented that she did not feel the child wanted to only do want adults wanted, rather the girl struck this clinical psychologist as competent with a good parental relationship and firm self esteem. Armstrong Hickey explained that the child really wanted to do the project because she was taking ballet lessons and had some trepidation about dancing on her toes. The child figured that if she could do it in her dream she could do it while awake. All of her lucid dreams in both the diary and the sleep lab components of the study were of ballet:
I told myself to dream that I was in the ballet and that I had point shoes on and that’s what I did. I had a lucid dream because I knew that I really couldn’t dance on point shoes.
Although she was a very playful child, the researcher noted, she was also very focused and seemed more mature than the other children.
On a more empirical note, the potential healthful benefits of lucid dreaming were also investigated in this study. Armstrong Hickey administered a children’s self concept scale before and after the six week training program. She found no significant difference in self concept. Two things may have contributed to this finding, first although all of the children increased in their self concept scores during the course of training, one dropped dramatically. Secondly the training program may not have been long enough to show significant self-concept changes.
A4. Recap Sleep Consciousness
In this section I have shown that consciousness in sleep is an expression of pure consciousness in sleep (witnessing) or a developmental precursor to it (lucid dreaming). As with pure consciousness/mystical experiences, consciousness in sleep is also seen in children.
I will now consider experiences which are related to or have in common two of the characteristics of the lucid dream-pure consciousness continuum. First is the deembedding or turning around on self characteristic of lucid dreaming/witnessing which is often spoken of in the meditative traditions as crucial to a heightened or broader self awareness. The much sought after “attitude” of detachment in most of the worlds spiritual traditions has not only a personality component but more centrally a spatial component. This aspect is often understated and thus the problem of detachment become a psychological operation often confused with denial without the appropriate psychological integration. The superior spatial skills of lucid dreamers (Snyder & Gackenbach, 1988) and meditators (Alexander et al., 1987) is well established.
The second major characteristic shared by some of these experiences is the unity, merging, numinous quality of pure consciousness. The experiences which will now be discussed are the out-of-body (OBE); Near-death (NDE) and ‘I-Am-Me” experiences (IAM).
- Out-of-Body Experience (OBE)
Immediately prior to the current work on lucidity, western references to this nocturnal experience were almost exclusively found in the literature discussing the OBE. OBE’s have been known to occur in deep meditative states, while under the influence of psychedelics, commonly associated with near-death experiences, and occasionally while engaged in some waking activity (Irwin, 1985).
The majority of OBE’s, however, arise at or near sleep with the next most frequent precipitator being periods of extreme waking stress. Of those associated with sleep Hunt and Ogilvie (1988) explain, “it is as if a dreaming sequence starts but, atypically, awareness of one’s actual setting in time and space is dislodged as in most dreams.” Rather, the dreamer integrates “the imaginal participation’s of the dream with a detached self-awareness that knows one’s actual context for what it is.” Relatedly, LaBerge, Levitan, Brylowski & Dement (1988) propose a REM sleep hypothesis for OBE’s.
Irwin (1988) argues that lucid dreams and OBE’s are neither, “phenomenologically or neurophysiologically equivalent.” None-the-less because of their strong statistical association, they reliably occur in the same people thus he too has searched for common mechanisms. Blackmore (1988) argues that they are both due to the same sort of mental model building process similar to the ones which have been developed for lucid dreaming.
B1. Mental Models of Lucid Dreaming and OBE’s
Several thinkers have used the mental model building process to account for lucid dreaming and the out-of-body experience (LaBerge, 1985; Blackmore, 1988; 1989; Tart, 1989; reviewed and summarized in Gackenbach, 1991). Although this is a somewhat different way of thinking of lucid dreaming it is not incompatible with the lucidity/meditation/pure consciousness links drawn earlier. This is especially evident in the work of Tart (1989).
One of the two best presentations of the information processing view of lucid dreaming/OBE’s is that of Blackmore (1988; 1989). Blackmore’s perspective places emphasis on a model of self in the world. She concludes about the model building process:
We create all the time a model of self in the world. It is continuously built up from and checked against sensory information and backed up by memory. The result is that we seem to be a person located inside a body, perceiving a stable external world. In other words, we have an effective “model of reality” (Blackmore, 1988; p. 377).
Since several models are possible it is the “stability” of a model which allows it to dominate as the current version of reality. Fluctuations in the strictness of our criteria for tolerating discrepancies between the existing model and new input determine which model takes ascendance. Strict criterion, for example, tolerate fewer discrepancies between the existing model and new input, and require the frequent model updating. This is allowed by the large processing capacities of the awake mind. Less strict criteria accept larger discrepancies. Thus we see more errors in perception for the sake of savings in processing. At the least strict criterion, as in sleep, the model shifts away from primarily externally generated input in order to ignore increasingly large discrepancies (Blackmore, 1988). Thus, for Blackmore, which model of reality takes dominance is a function of variations in both arousal, which allows greater (awake) or lesser (asleep) processing capacity, and sensory input (external or internal) which effects the strictness of criterion.
She also tackles the complex issue of selecting which model appears in awareness by first assuming that all mental models are conscious or, “consciousness is what it is like being a mental model” (Blackmore, 1988; p. 379). She continues, “why then am ‘I’ apparently conscious of some and not others? Because ‘I’ am only a model like everything else” (p. 379). Models that are part of my model of self for now are thus in “my” awareness. Other models are only in their awareness, which may be fleeting and ephemeral to me, now. Thus for Blackmore in normal states of consciousness, there is one overriding model of self in the world which she calls a “model of reality.” In extreme ASCs [altered states of consciousness], other “models of reality”, or chaos, or stillness might become the prevailing “model of reality”. She argues that in some ASCs one can even gain insight into the constructed nature of the self.
In dreaming sleep, which she limits to REM, arousal increases without sensory input being processed thus no good input-controlled model is available. But because the dominant model at any one time will seem real, the model that now takes on “reality” status is whichever one happens to be the most convincing at the time. In dreams, of course, this could be anything at all that imagination can create. She suggests that this is why dreams are both so bizarre and yet so convincingly real because we are effectively stranded in a mental world without a stable input-controlled model of who and where we are.
In ordinary dreaming something can happen which can raise the idea of dreaming, such as a recurrent theme. Then a model is engaged which states ‘this is a dream and you are asleep’. This model, according to Blackmore, can gain the advantage if enough information from memory is available. Thus memory is crucial for Blackmores view of how lucidity emerges.
With regards to OBEs, at two arousal points the system is forced to create a new mental model of experience thus resulting in the reorientation of the perception of the locus of “self” as “outside” the physical body. The most frequent condition is when one is denied sensory inputs as when one is at or near sleep. Without sensory inputs as to the appropriate location of “self” the system is more fluid in its model building process. Although in the case of sleep mentation “self” is still most frequently “located” in the dream ego body.
The other extreme is when the system is on overload, as with physical or mental stress. Due to the potential negative consequences of self being so strongly identified with the body it relinquishes such an identification and “locates” elsewhere. In other words, it rebuilds or selects an alternate mental model of self and body but this time self is outside of body. In the midrange of the arousal continuum we reliably construct self as inside our bodies, a useful and adaptive construction, but a construction none-the-less (Yates, 1985). When we move out of that “narrow band” the mental model building process easily breaks down. So overload (stress) and underload (sleep) facilitate more fluid reconstruction’s of self relative to body, i.e. “out-of”.
Let me illustrate, after 34 hours of labor I was fantasizing amidst loud shrieks, that if I could only jump off the labor table and run down the hospital hallway all would be fine. Quite suddenly I found my”self” on the ceiling of the labor room looking down on my husband rubbing my back. As I was all hooked up to fetal monitors this was the best “running away” I could manage. I recall thinking to myself, “Ah, this is much better!” But at that moment my daughter decided to enter the birth cannel and “I” was immediately “inside” my body again.
This understanding of the OBE shows that we can deconstruct our model of reality in an adaptive and nonpathological manner by turning around on self as needed it also sheds light on the constructed nature of all dreams and how lucid dreams allow a preliminary “waking up” to said constructions.
B2. Fantasy Prone Interpretation of OBE’s
Fantasy prone individuals have a “unique constellation of personality traits and experiences that coalesced around a deep, profound, and long-standing involvement in fantasy and imagination (Lynn & Rhue, 1988; p. 35).” It has been suggested that the fantasy prone personality can account for such “diverse phenomena as hypnosis; out-of-body, religious, visionary, parapsychological, and near-death experiences (p. 35).” The construct emerged out of the hypnosis literature with the work of Wilson and Barber (1981). However, Lynn and Rhue (1988) in a review of the literature concluded that fantasy proneness and hypnotizability are only modestly related with attitudinal and motivational factors moderating the relationship.
As for the developmental antecedents of fantasy proneness, it has traditionally been thought that there are two developmental pathways to extreme fantasy proneness and hypnotic susceptibility in later life. First, Lynn and Rhue point out that numerous studies have shown the importance of an adult support for the development of fantasy. Such adults tend to frequently read fairy tales to their children, treat their child’s play objects as if they were alive and expose the children to theater. The second path to high fantasy proneness is due to loneliness and isolation and as an escape from an aversive environment. For instance in one study “6 of 21 fantasizers reported being severely physically abused as children (e.g., bruises, bleeding or broken bones), none of the other subjects reported comparable punishment (p. 40).” Furthermore this severe punishment continued more often and over a longer period of time than for nonfantasizers.
Finally they considered the relationship of fantasy proneness to psychopathology. Lynn and Rhue concluded there is “some degree of overlap between relative healthy imaginative tendencies and pathological ideational processes. Although a sizable minority (20 to 35%) of fantasy prone individuals exhibit significant signs of maladjustment, the majority show an “adequate balance between their inner life and the constraints of reality (p. 41).” So that this form of coping may be viewed as an adaptive “and perhaps compensatory function in relatively nondefensive individuals (p. 41).”
The association of fantasy proneness to parapsychological experiences has been recently supported in terms of its correlation to paranormal belief (Irwin, 1991). However, Ring and Rosing (1990) found no difference between controls and UFO or NDE experiencers on fantasy proneness. Irwin (1985) argues that OBEers are not high on fantasy proneness rather on absorption.
B3. Mystical Components of the OBE
Irwin (1985) summarized the research on religion, religiosity, and spirituality as associated with the OBE. Based on several survey studies and one experimental manipulation he concluded:
In short there is no conclusive evidence that (intellectually) religious variables contribute to either the occurrence or the content of the OBE, although the bases of supernaturalistic elements in near-death OBEs warrant clarification in this regard (p. 189).
However, when interpretations of the experience are examined than a spiritual component emerges as they are commonly interpreted by the individual as spiritual. Two factors contribute to this interpretation. The first is the situation in which they occur; “if the experient was near death at the time the OBE is much more likely to be regarded in a religious connotation (p. 215).” Second is the individuals religiosity. Irwin concludes about this factor:
In the final analysis there probably is a two-way relationship between religiosity and the OBE. If the experient is religious the OBE is more likely to be recalled in spiritual terms. At the same time the OBE may have certain inherent spiritual connotations and these may function to counter or redirect the developmental tendency to abandon religion; in fact some elements of the experience even may produce an increase in religious concern (p. 216).
B4. OBE’s in Children
Several studies (reviewed in Irwin, 1985) have examined age of onset of OBE’s although there was no difference as a function of age in his own data, there was an apparent dearth of experiences before age 5 years. Irwin notes that details of OBE’s before age 5 are also rare. In Millar’s (1990) survey of psychics, 37% reported OBE’s in childhood while Hunt et al. (1991) found significantly more in meditators than in nonmeditators during childhood. All childhood OBE incidence estimates are from adult memories with no systematic research on children.
Stanford (1987) took a developmental perspective on those who have had out-of-body experiences. Undergraduate students with varying frequencies and types of OBE’s were asked about the percentage of time during childhood they spent reading/read to, playing imaginary games alone, playing with imaginary playmates, playing with other children, use of a transitional object (doll/blanket), spanking and deprivation as punishment, and use of imagination to cope with punishment. By making a distinction between OBE’s experienced while awake and while asleep he found a slightly different pattern of imaginal activities.
An early, strong involvement with reading seems particularly likely among individuals who report having typically (or exclusively) had an OBE while awake, and there was suggestive evidence that OBEers who report themselves as typically being awake during the experience are likely to have spent relatively little time as children playing with other children. Similarly, those who report an OBE as typically having occurred while they were falling asleep are more likely to have spent considerable time playing with one or more imaginary playmates. (p. 151)
Stanford (1987) found regarding parental discipline:
There was no evidence here that strict parental discipline, manifest in physical punishment and deprivation as punishment, favored the occurrence of OBEs during waking or while falling asleep (p. 152)
Although Stanford did not rule out the fantasy-prone hypothesis he did point out that although there may be predisposing familial circumstances for the OBE to occur it also requires a cognitive capacity, such as absorption.
In Irwin’s (1985) comprehensive review of the OBE literature he concludes that although childhood or family religiosity or religion do not affect occurrence of OBE’s nor the content, such religious related developmental variables do affect interpretation. He notes:
In my sample . . . despite no difference between childhood religiosity, nonexperients now tend to have abandoned their religion whereas experients have resisted this trend by remaining at least “slightly religious.” Further, among those respondents who currently still are religious, the OBErs show a lower rate of affiliation with traditional Christian institutions, that is they are more inclined than nonexperients to adopt unorthodox religious beliefs . . . OBE in a near-death situation may not only arrest the religious decline with age but actually bring about an increase in religiosity (p. 216).
B5. Recap Out-of-Body-Experiences
In this section I have shown that OBE’s are reliably associated with lucid dreaming and that similar cognitive (mental model building) mechanisms may account for them. Although, as with the other experiences discussed, OBE’s are rare in childhood but they do exist.
- Near-Death Experiences (NDE)
NDE’s, which typically occur during periods of the severest biological stress, can be conceptualized as an extreme case of the mental model building process which combines the intensified deembedding from self of the OBE with the unity aspect of the mystical experience.
In a recent review of the NDE literature, Groth-Marnat and Schumaker (1989; for another review see Glen & Owen, 1988) began by tracing the history of such inquiries to the late 19th century when there was intense interest in studying the last moments of dying. These early investigators found that, “deathbed visions occurred frequently and were usually accompanied by intense emotion (p. 111).” This interest dropped off in the mid-20th century but was picked up again with the popularization of Kubler-Ross’s (1969) and Moody’s (1975) work.
The protypical NDE has been mapped in four research studies following Moody’s original descriptive work (Noyes & Slymen, 1979; Ring, 1979; Sabom, 1982; Greyson, 1983). Only two characteristics, “calm or peace” and OBE’s, were found in all four studies while two characteristics, unearthly world and being of light, were identified in three of the four studies. These reviewers conclude that, “preliminary studies from different cultures suggest that the general pattern of the NDE is universal, even though there does seem to be some variation in detail and interpretation (p. 118).” In terms of frequency, Groth-Marnat and Schumaker (1989) point out that, “persons with serious illnesses were more likely to experience NDEs than persons experiencing near-fatal accidents (p. 113).”
Another area which has received considerable attention is the after effects of NDE’s. These are likely to be powerful and include, “reduced fear of death and a more favorable view of life . . . increased belief in afterlife . . . greater self-acceptance . . . increased concern for others, less interest in material possessions . . . a religious awakening/philosophical reorientation . . . a greater orientation toward the present . . . and an increased openness to experiencing psychic phenomena (p. 118-119).” In summarizing this work Ring (1984; 1986) has theorized that NDE’s may be modern releaser’s for a spiritual awakening. Ring (1983) has found that NDEers move from a traditional Christian orientation to a “universalistically spiritual orientation” which he describes as:
- A tendency to characterize oneself as spiritual rather than religious per se.
- A feeling of being inwardly close to God.
- A deemphasis of the formal aspects of religious life and worship.
- A conviction that there is life after death, regardless of religious belief.
- An openness to the doctrine of reincarnation (and a general sympathy toward Eastern religions).
- A belief in the essential underlying unity of all religions.
- A desire for a universal religion embracing all humanity (p. 146).
The range of this new orientation is powerfully described by physicist John Wren-Lewis (1985) after his own NDE which did not have many of the classical characteristics but which he described as “simply dissolved into an apparently spaceless and timeless void which was total ‘nothing’ness’ yet at the same time the most intense, blissful aliveness I have ever known (p. 4).” The after-effects of this apparent experience of pure consciousness he described as a “living void” which acts as a:
background to my consciousness and the effect is that I experience everything, including this sixty-year-old body-mind, as a continuous outpouring of Being, where-in every part is simultaneously the whole, manifesting afresh moment by moment from that infinite Dark. As ‘John’ I seem to have no separate existence, but am simply the Void knowing itself in manifestation, and in that process of continuous creation everything seems to celebrate coming into being with a shout of joy – ‘Behold, it is very good!’ Yet the experience is in no sense a high, for its feeling-tone is one of gentle equanimity. My impression is rather that I am now knowing the true ordinariness of everything for the first time, and that what I used to call normal consciousness was in fact clouded (p. 4-5).
The area of largest controversy is in explanations for NDE’s. Theories range from evidence for the existence of afterlife to simply a subjective experience to epiphenomena of physiological processes. Groth-Manat & Schumaker (1989) conclude that although several physiological mechanisms have been identified which may contribute to the NDE experience these explanations fail to account for all the data and thus cannot be considered comprehensive. Psychological explanations include, “hallucinations based on expectations, depersonalization and regression in the service of the ego, replay of perinatal experiences, and the activation of archetypes (p. 122).” Related to these types of explanations are NDE like experiences which don’t occur near death.
The near-death scenario is not limited to actually being near death. Gillespie (1985) reports a similar pattern in a dream, while Rogo (1990) tells of how he induced a NDE from a self induced OBE out of REM sleep. Siegel and Hirschman (1984) and Ring (1988) report on experiences of dying associated with hashish or LSD/hashish use. Finally in a detailed analysis of an NDE like experience, Holden and Guest (1990) tell of a protypical NDE while awake during a marital crisis. In a summary of Guests experience the authors note that although she was fully conscious during it she felt that it happened to her, completely out of her control. The content involved marital memories rather than all of life memories, was chronological and predominantly visual. Also like the classical NDE Guest’s experience, “provided her with deep, new insight, and with a profound sense of love of self and husband, of responsibility that precluded blaming of others, and of forgiveness that precluded blaming of self (p. 15).” These sorts of NDE experiences outside of the realm of extreme bodily crisis (death) imply a psychodynamic function.
The most controversial explanations are the view that the NDE is an objective experience independent of biological functioning. These reviewers note that:
Persons using NDEs to support a survivalist position point to the invariance or universality of the experience . . . empirical verification of objective events during the out-of-body component of the NDE . . . parallels in ancient texts such as the Tibetan Book of the Dead . . . and the inability of current scientific theories to explain either the event itself or the beneficial effects following an NDE (p. 126).
C1. NDE’s and Lucid Dreams
In this brief review of the NDE literature we showed that it is related to mystical experiences (being of light and after affects) and OBE’s. Several studies have looked directly at the NDE/lucid dream relationship. Kohr (1982) identified three groups of respondents, who differed in whether or not they had had a near-death experience. The experiencing group indicated they had come close to death, had a deep, moving personal experience, and had one or more of the six types of experiences described in the research on NDE’s. A second group indicated that they had come close to death and may or may not have had a moving personal experience. The third group was referred to as the non-experiencing group, composed of persons who had never come close to death. In terms of dream states the experiencing group reported a greater frequency of unusual dream states including lucidity.
In a another study Greyson (1982) compared controls, those who were members of the International Association for Near-Death Studies but had never had such an experience to NDEers from that organization. He found that similar to normative studies 54% of his controls had lucid dreams. Among near-death experiencers, 13 out of 62 respondents (21%) reported having had lucid dreams prior to their NDE’s while 33 (53%) reported having had lucid dreams since their NDE’s. These two studies imply that NDE’s increase lucid dreaming frequency.
The NDE is an experience which embraces both the sudden turning around on self, deembedding of the lucid dream, OBE, I-am-me (IAM) with the fusion, unity quality of the mystical/PC experience. The classic NDE, of course, involves an OBE and a moving toward (if not complete fusion with) a “being of light”. That is not to say that in some sense all the other marker experiences might not also have components of both separation/unity but none in such apparent strength as an NDE.
C2. NDE’s in Children
Probably the earliest NDE reported is at birth from adult recall. Serdahely and Walker (1990) report on the case of a 23-year old woman who had a near-death experience at birth which was recalled as a recurring nightmare while a child. These nightmares ended about age six but what makes this of interest is that the girl had been born dead and revived after five minutes.
In a review of the NDE literature, Groth-Marnat and Schumaker (1989) concluded regarding childrens NDE’s that:
the frequency and pattern for children’s NDEs is the same as for adults . . . but they are less likely to have encounters with deceased relatives . . . and persons under 20 are more likely to report speeded and vivid thought, strange bodily sensations, and a feeling of being controlled by outside forces. . . Whereas [some] have reported fewer life reviews in younger populations [others] . . . have reported more (p. 117)
Gabbard and Twemlow (1984) report on several NDE’s in children, two directly from preschoolers and one from an adult of an experience she had at age seven. For instance, two year old Todd bit into an electrical cord and upon arriving in the emergency room showed no heart beat and no respiration. After months of recovery to full functioning his mother asked him:
“Could you tell Mommy what you remember when you bit the cord of the vacuum cleaner?” Without even looking up, he told her, “I went in a room with a very nice man and sat with him.” His mother asked him what the room looked like. Todd replied, “It had a big bright light in the ceiling,” . . . Todd’s mother then asked him what the man said to him, and Todd responded, “He asked me if I wanted to stay there or come back to you.” Looking up at his mother, he said, “I wanted to be with you and come home.”
Todd’s mother wrote of these events in Todd’s baby book in 1972, a few years before Moody’s book appeared.
In all of the cases reported in Gabbard and Twemlow (1984) the child had not heard of NDE’s yet evidenced many of the common features of adult NDE’s. Gabbard and Twemlow compared two preschool accounts with two 7-year old accounts. In keeping with their developmental stage, the beings of light in the younger children’s experiences are one-dimensional. They note that, “these two figures lack the richness and complexity of the adult NDE figure. They resemble ordinary, nonmystical parental figures (p. 165)”. In contrast, those of the older children were much more well formed with “good and bad qualities, although they are still not integrated into one individual (p. 165).” They conclude:
In the adult NDE the being of light is closer to a whole object, ambivalently viewed as one would view a parent. This figure loves and accepts the NDEer while judging how the NDEer has lived his or her life and commanding the NDEer to return. This being of light is a well-rounded figure who evokes both love and fear in the subject. It is a coincidence that this figure is often taken to be God, since the Western anthropomorphized view of God is the powerful parent, that is, God, the Father, who evokes both fear and love in his subjects. . . whatever figure is perceived in the course of the near-death experience will be perceived through an individual filter or template of internalized objects, which is developmentally determined by the age of the child and the child’s experience with significant objects in his or her environment (p. 165).
A couple of subtle variations on NDE’s in children should be mentioned. Serdahely (1989-90) reported on a NDE of an 8-year old after near drowning. In it the boy was comforted by two recently deceased family pets rather than human type beings. This is consistent with developmental literature of animals in dreams as significantly higher in children then adults and supports the notion of NDE’s phenomenon as being developmentally appropriate for the age.
Finally several investigators have examined the developmental antecedents of NDE’s in adulthood. Serdahely (1987-88) reported on three cases of women with histories of child and sexual abuse and how the being of light was a female whose role was to provide comfort for suffering children. In a more comprehensive study Ring and Rosing (1990) report on a complex array of developmental antecedents in NDE’s. They found that although as children they were not especially inclined toward fantasy proneness, “they are apparently already sensitive to non-ordinary realities . . . child abuse and trauma and other stresses, such as serious illness may contribute to this kind of sensitivity, but this study doesn’t establish that they have a primary, much less exclusive, role in this regard (p. 71 & 73).” This study will be considered in more detail in the next section.
C3. Unidentified Flying Object Abduction Experiences (UFOE)
It may seem surprising to find the UFO abduction experience included under NDE’s or in this chapter at all. But in a recent study of the developmental antecedents of UFOE’s, Ring and Rosing (1990) found a very similar pattern of childhood neglect in both NDE and UFOE experients which parallels in some respects that described by Goldenthal for psychics, Stanford (1987) for OBEer’s, and Lynn and Rhue (1988) for fantasy prone individuals. The “reality” of the UFO scenario is not relevant to this discussion whereas the mental aspects of these experiences is and has been the focus of several contemporary psychologists, starting with Jung (1964).
UFOE’s have been conceptualized as “confabulations, tapestries stitched together from actual experience, the stories of others who were there, events that have happened since, and perhaps a dash of wishful thinking (Bird, 1989),” but it is a major disservice to those who experience them to hold that “rational people view the stories with amusement (Bird, 1989).” Although the fantasy prone hypothesis or sleep related phenomenon may account for some of the mechanism of these experiences more sophisticated theories see these as the currently emerging myths of science (Grosso, 1985).
I would argue that OBE’s, NDE’s and UFOE’s are generally inaccurate, if powerful, attributions of the state of the organism. Most, but not all, occur in states of either sensory underload (at or near sleep), or overload (physical or emotional stress). Even the UFO abductions from a car typically occur while the driver is in an deserted stretch of road, with many at night. Such low or constant stimulus driving conditions certainly induce hypnagogic or trance like states which are highly susceptible to fluid mental modeling processes. At these two extremes of the arousal continuum it is easier to reconstruct the mental model of lived world. Thus we see the face valid attribution by the experients of their apparent reality status (“I am out of my body”, ” I am dead”, or “I am being abducted by aliens”). So too in nonlucid dreams there is an inaccurate attribution, “This is real, I am awake.” However, in the case of the lucid dream the attribution process is accurate (“I am dreaming.”).
These three experiences, OBE, NDE and UFOE, are some of the few imaginal realms that are more “real” than dreams (as are lucid dreams) but like nonlucid dreams they carry the same inaccurate attribution. For most of us dreams are the strongest experiences of the mind that appear to occur “outside” of consensus reality. When we are dreaming, while in the dream, it feels real. Even if we know it to be a dream while still in the dream, it still feels real or even hyper-real. But in the vast majority of dreams we suffer a peculiar “single-mindedness” (Rechtschaffen, 1978) in that we are sure we are awake. Typically we have no idea that we are dreaming while we dream. So too in the “dreams” (while awake, asleep or somewhere in between) of OBE’s, NDE’s, and UFOE’s, we are certain that what is occurring is “real” in the same sense of waking consensus reality. In lucid dreams we “wake up” to the dream reality without loosing its felt sense of reality. And so too rarely might an experient of these other experiences accurately attribute the true nature of his or her state. But as with dreams these accurate attributions are the exception not the rule.
This experience from Worsley (1988), the first lucid dreamer to signal in a sleep laboratory from sleep that he knew he was dreaming, illustrates my point. In speaking about lucid dreaming, which he directly enters from the waking state by lying for up to 2 hours on his back and not moving, Worsley comments:
I am not given to superstition or believing in ‘unnecessary entities’ but perhaps the term “dream” is a little too bland to do justice to the ultra-realism of these experiences. For instance, if one “dreams,” as I have, in rich tactile and auditory imagery of being examined in the dark by robots or operated upon by small beings whose good will and competence may be in doubt, or abused in various ways by life-forms not known to terrestrial biology, it can be very difficult to keep still. I have found that if I do not keep still this peculiar state of consciousness usually evaporates in a moment. That can be very useful as an escape route but it can be annoying to lose it when the success rate is not high and each attempt takes two hours or more. I like to regard myself as at least a moderately intrepid investigator, but I have to admit that in spite of being intellectually of the opinion that what was happening was only internally generated imagery, I have flinched during these episodes on more than one occasion . . . I suspect that many “UFO abduction” experiences, as well as out-of-body-experiences are examples of the same kind of thing. (p. 51).
I want to stress that the felt reality of these experiences, be they OBE, NDE, or UFOE, is profound and should not be understated. But a sense of hyper-reality has also been reported in lucid dreams (Gackenbach & Bosveld, 1989). Because of it the relatively unsophisticated observer, which is probably most of us, often concludes that such experiences are “real” in the sense of consensual waking reality. Only in the case of the lucid dream does the experience feel real while we experience it even though we are fully aware at the time that it is not “real”. Thus lucid dreaming represents a breakthrough of sorts for these types of experiences, in the sense of the “waking up” called for in the meditative traditions. These experiences, especially the NDE and UFOE are often reported as transformative. Further, Grosso (1982) points out that at deep levels they “seem to be phenomenologically similar to the mystical experience”. This is supported by the NDE-lucid research reported on earlier showing that NDE’s increase the frequency of lucid dreaming.
As for the developmental characteristics of the NDE and UFOE experients, Ring and Rosing (1990) surveyed 264 people of four types: UFO encounter group, interest in but no significant UFO experience, NDE group, and interested in NDE but no experience. They found no difference between the four groups in childhood fantasy proneness but did find significant superiority of the two experiencing groups in childhood psychic experiences and childhood sensitivity to nonordinary realities. Items which identified these latter two scales included, “As a child, I was aware of non-physical beings while I was awake” or “As a child, I was able to see into ‘other realities’ that others didn’t seem to be aware of (p. 70).”
These investigators also looked at childhood abuse and trauma, specifically physical mistreatment, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and negative home atmosphere. Again both types of experiencers reported significantly more of all forms of abuse than interested nonexperiencers. Relatedly, experiencers of both forms also reported significantly more serious childhood illnesses than nonexperiencers. Despite the significant differences and similar to the OBE developmental antecedents, these authors caution that this may contribute to the later life experiences but other factors may also be of importance.
C4. Recap of Near-death Experiences
In this section I have briefly reviewed the NDE literature with special attention to their relationship to lucid dreams, OBE’s and mystical states. Here too they were seen in children and adults who have had them shown similar developmental antecedents as OBE and UFOE experients.
- ‘I-Am-Me’ Experience
When I was 11 years old Russia sent Sputnik up and I was fascinated by our first reach to space. At about the same time my mother went through a very difficult emotional period which was so distressing for her that she had to be hospitalized. Needless to say before my father made the decision to hospitalize her there was a lot of yelling, screaming, and general emotional intensity around our home. At about this time I walked outside of our home in Pennsylvania on an especially clear evening in the summer. I looked at the stars and quite suddenly “woke up” in some sense. I felt like I did not belong in my body, that I was trapped there, that I had in fact come from the stars and wanted desperately to return “home”. I shed tears and felt my heart ache in the name of an incredibly deep compassion for the human condition as “they” were trapped in these shells of which I was all too aware. How like a prison being in a body was, or so it seemed to me. The image of bars as I looked out of my eyes seemed to fit. I longed from the depths of my 11 year old soul to go home out there in the stars. Yet I knew that I had screwed up or that for some reason I had to stay here, in this body.
Now as a psychologist I can “interpret” this experience as a child/woman just emerging into her own body which somehow feels strange as the ravages of puberty took their toll (I began menstruating at 11 years). I would look to how my emotions may have seemed to be controlling me especially in the context of the out of whack emotional turmoil my mothers struggle was subjecting our family to. Surrounding my personal and familial turmoil was my cultures obsession with the space race. This combination of tensions is in some way contributory, it is also inadequate to explain the full meaning and power of those few moments on my front lawn. Somehow IN THE CONTEXT OF THAT PERIOD OF MY LIFE, I glimpsed, if however briefly, my “true” identity. That is the “me” that is more than just this body, this name, these roles. The me that does in some very real way want to go home even today.
Many years later I ran across an obscure article which seemed to address my experience. This rarely examined experience, which seems to represent another form of turning around on the self or deembedding which has been one of two key characteristics of these experiences. The I-am-me (IAM) experience was identified by Spiegelberg (1964) who explains:
I submit that especially in the context of its actual occurrence it is the outgrowth of a peculiar amazement, a vertignous feeling which is particularly acute in childhood but by no means restricted to it. It differs significantly from the mere everyday awareness of selfhood or individuality as signified by the use of the pronoun “I”. For the I-am-me experience involves a peculiar centripetal movement not to be found in the ordinary outward turn of our “I”-consciousness or even in the simple statement “I am.” (p. 3)
Spiegelberg illustrates this from Carl Gustave Jung’s autobiography:
At that time another important experience occurred. It happened on my long walk to school from Klein-Huningen, where we lived, to Basel. There was a moment there in which I suddenly had the overwhelming feeling of having just come out of a dense fog with the consciousness: now I am me. At my back there was something like a fog bank behind which I had not yet been. But at that moment I became an event to myself. Before that I was also around, but everything had merely taken place. Now, however, I knew: now I am me, now I am really here. Before, things were merely done to me, but now I was the one who willed. This experience seemed to me enormously significant and novel. There was authenticity in it.” (p. 7).
Spiegelberg argues that these experiences share common characteristics.
1) it is given to the inside observer 2) it is at the start “alarmingly unadjusted to its plight”, disoriented 3) dissociation of the “me” from the body, thus very different from normal bodily and mental processes 4) occurs with sudden shock, anything but gradual 5) “the experience has no primary reference to past and future phases in its development nor to other comparable selves (p. 9)” 6) “an experience of self-identity in depth rather than in temporal length and social breadth (p. 9)”
He pursued the incidence of the IAM experience with a series of surveys. He gave informants a sample experience with many of the key characteristics. All but 8% of his first sample of 59 students found it understandable and 45% of these could back it up with a similar experience yet only 25% had heard of such an experience from others.
In Spiegelbergs work he broadened his conceptualization to embrace gradual experiences and found in a second survey that only 25% were of the sudden variety for our purposes it is the sudden variety which is of interest. Lucid dreams, OBE’s, NDE’s, UFOE’s, mystical experiences like the IAM have that sudden quality. Although reports of gradual ones exist they are more often marked by a sudden shift in position/awareness of self/state. Spiegelberg concludes that, “the experience which is most intense in childhood and adolescence, gradually loses its poignancy as people get used to, and diverted from, the original phenomenon. (p. 19)” and suggests that “one might, for instance, suspect that the I-am-me experience is the result of some traumatic event (p. 20).”
In a rare study of religious experiences in childhood, Robinson (1983) spends a chapter talking about the emergence of “self” in childhood. His discussion was generated from this question which he administered to 362 adults:
Can you recall any particular moment or period when you had a feeling of emerging into self-consciousness, that is of feeling yourself to be an individual person with some degree of freedom and responsibility? And was this associated with any religious feelings or ideas?
Slightly less than half of his respondents indicated having such an experience and 50% of those said it was associated with religious feelings or ideas. Additionally, 55% of the yes responses occurred when the respondent was less than 12 years old with 46% of the religious overtone respondents say it happened at less than 12 years.
Here an example from a 31 year old woman who saw it as a religious experience:
I first became aware of this at the age of 3. In fact it made up the very first conscious thinking I ever did. There were two elements to it: (a) a feeling that I was in the world to do certain things, that I had been sent here to carry out these tasks, together with an awareness that I didn’t yet know exactly what it was I was supposed to do and that I would first have to find out. I was convinced that sooner or later the “call” to do the right thing would come (it hasn’t so far). (b) A “knowledge” that I had come from somewhere before I was born, and that I would one day return to that somewhere. My preoccupation with trying to find out where I had come from was strongest during my earliest years. Later I stopped thinking about it, and I haven’t yet started thinking about the “somewhere” I’m going to after death. But as a very young child I had a very strong and distinct feeling that my life hadn’t started at birth, and of being frightfully old. Both these feelings were on my mind throughout childhood, and only really began to recede during a period of acute poverty as a grown-up. I’m still, at the back of my mind, looking for that “something”. But as I get older and gradually give up most of the things I hoped to do in life, my little “something” is turning into something I have to find, rather than something I have to do (p. 105).
An absorption component to these experiences is illustrated by this 63 year old male:
I remember instances in my childhood when I felt a unity with the world around me verging on mystical experience. I did not at first associate such feelings with religion. They were usually the result of a deep realization of beauty in nature or music. They were not so much a sense of self-consciousness as of absorption in something far greater than myself of which I was at the same time a part and glad and grateful to be so; an overwhelming sense of trust and gratitude to the world for letting me be a part of it. This was later amplified and deepened in periods of genuine spiritual experience when I and the world seemed to dissolve into a new and vastly more significant reality which had hitherto been only vaguely sensed but suddenly seemed to be revealed completely, so that one had the sense that it had always been there but that one had been unaware of it. Probably the first experience of this intensity of awareness came to me when I was a child of about 4 or 5 as I played on the terrace of our house in Sussex (p. 114).
Robinson argues that the “discovery that there is more to the self than its physical embodiment may be the first experience of transcendence (p. 108)” and concludes “what really matters is to recognize that the experience, the search for “my own special reality”, is not confined to any particular stage of mental development, but is a characteristic of childhood at any age (p. 110).”
The IAM experience seems to epitomize the conjunction of the unity aspect of mystical with the turning on self aspect of the witness and clearly is something that can occur first in childhood.
- Related Experiences Summary
In this section I survey a range of experiences which are related to PC. In terms of correlates to these experiences, in a reading of the literature Rogo (1968) concluded that the out-of-body experiences (OBE) was a central feature of mystical experience which was empirically supported by Kohr (1980). In a later study Kohr (1983) found those who had an near-death experience (NDE) had significantly higher mystical experience scores than those who did not.
I argue that the central experience is sleep consciousness with lucid dreaming as the bridge to the experience of PC in sleep or witnessing. I then survey several experiences which show statistical and/or phenomenological similarity to sleep consciousness in one of two ways turning around on self and/or unity/fusion. Although this list is not a comprehensive list of all transpersonal experiences it does encompass those which focus on transformations in some manner of the construction of self.
In the next section I will review the few studies which have examined a complex of transpersonal experiences in childhood. These are from normal as well as special populations: meditators, psychics, and Natives. Although many transpersonally related variables are included in these studies, the focus of the discussion will be on the variables delineated thus far mystical, lucid dreaming, OBE, and NDE experiences. I’ve found no studies that include the IAM and UFO abduction experiences except as noted earlier. In fact, Millar (personal communication, June 27, 1991) commented that the inclusion of lucid dreaming in his questionnaire was a last minute decision because of a friends interest in it yet it was the only variable of 23 transpersonal ones that discriminated the disturbed from the nondisturbed psychic opening groups (associated with the nondisturbed) (Millar, 1990). This illustrates that the turning around on self and union aspects of focus in this chapter have not always been so associated with traditional parapsychological and transpersonal experiences.
III. Developmental Perspectives on Complex Sets of Experiences
Several studies will be examined in this section. Most are unpublished at this time. The first three are largely quantitative with the first dealing with meditators versus students and the next two with psychics. The last is a qualitative study of two Cree women’s transpersonal experiences in childhood.
- Developmental Characteristics of Transpersonal Experiences in Meditators Versus College Students
In the first work of this series, Hunt (1991; and Hunt, Gervais, Shearing-Johns & Travis, 1991) reports on two studies examining the frequency of transpersonal experiences in two populations during different parts of their life spans. He also administered to some of the research subjects scales to measure cognitive skills/precocity and vulnerability of self in order to test if such experiences are more associated with precocity or dysfunction when they appear in childhood. The transpersonal experiences they asked about included five positive ones, mystical experience, out-of-body-experience, lucid dreams, archetypal dreams, and ESP, and two negative experiences of the night, nightmares and night terrors.
They found that for the student populations high levels of childhood transpersonal experiences were more likely to be associated with negative experiences of the night while for the meditating sample this was not the case. They conclude that the meditative tradition that they are following may offer them, “precisely the potential to develop further a broad range of earlier and positive spontaneous experiences (p. 12).”
As for the individual difference measures they found high visual spatial abilities and lower neuroticism associated with students who also reported high levels of childhood transpersonal experiences. However, there was also evidence in their study for a negative developmental factor:
high levels of mystical and out-of-body experience seem to entail the appearance or increase of night terror and nightmare states, and there is some evidence that high estimates of childhood sleep panic states may be associated with lower levels of imaginative and spatial abilities in adulthood. These subjects may lack the visual-spatial skills that seem to be the cognitive bedrock of transpersonal experience, so that their positive experiences are also part of an attempted containment and self healing of early traumatization and/or deficit (p. 13).
Hunt et al. illustrate these two developmental patters with these antidotes from each of their samples. From the meditating sample where the experiences seem to hail developmental precocity this dream was reported in a follow-up interview as having occurred repeatedly from preschool years:
I would be falling in white light and it would be like a swirling sensation. At the bottom of this white light was a yogi who was quite different in structure and had a white body. It was a very soft body. He had a very big head with no hair at all and just a little body. He was in lotus. Just as I was falling, he would reach out and grab me. It was just a feeling of coming home (p. 13).
In contrast, a woman from the student sample who experienced an extraordinary frequency of out-of-body and mystical experiences conceptualized these in “terms of an early sense of having been exiled into her body, with a resultant longing for a freedom or openness (p. 13).” This association is reminiscent of the I-Am-Me experiences discussed earlier. Hunt et al. conclude that “it is childhood and late adulthood that are the times of life most open to nonconflicted, spontaneous expressions of spirituality (p. 15).”
- Childhood Development of the Psychic
A fairly comprehensive study of developmental antecedents of psychics is one by Goldenthal (1985). He first analyzed the biographies of nine well known psychics and identified these common characteristics of childhood; isolation, imaginary playmates and support for psychic experiences. Further he notes that “the home may have been unable to provide adequate nurturing, or adequate limits, but it was able to provide the child with a sense that there was someone who would look out for him/her (p. 59).” All nine had these experiences beginning at less than age 14 with three in adolescence and six less than 5 years of age.
He then administered a questionnaire to 29 psychics and 40 graduate students in a mental health field and followed this with interviews with 10 from each group. The psychics reported a similar pattern of experiences but for our purposes only the OBE was included in the psychic experience question. However, three additional questions seem to be getting at the concept of the witness. The first read, “I felt as though there was a part of me which observed what I was doing.” Psychics were more likely to reply occasionally to often (83%) whereas only 47% of the controls so replied. In the interviews controls were significantly more likely to report “yes” to “Does the subject report experiencing this observer generally in times of stress, trauma or pressure?” more so than the psychics. Also from the interview in answer to “Does the subject report that there is a part of themselves which provides them with information, judgment or clear thinking but is distinct from their normal waking consciousness?”, 80% of the psychics said yes compared to 40% of the controls.
Goldenthal found that these conditions were common in his sample:
1) difficulties in early nurturing relationships, especially with mother; 2) lack of severe abuse of interpersonal trauma; 3) a tendency to become engrossed in fantasy activity; 4) an attentional deficit; 5) an underlying sense of well being buttressed by reassurance from “inner voices”; and 6) some support for using inner resources, either in the form of family members who accept and support paranormal explanations of events or by reading works on parapsychology. (p. i-ii).
Although there was a problem with parental relations, it was not abusive and questions dealing with childhood misconduct (sent to the principles office) showed no group differences.
He then goes on to place psychics, who reported maternal nurturance problems but not severe abuse, along a continuum followed by highly hypnotizable persons, who encountered excess in punishment from parents, borderline personality, who experienced a history of object attachment due to dysfunctional parenting, and finally multiple personality, who is a victim of severe childhood abuse. In other words he found that psychics were a distinct type among personality types who dissociate however they tend “to describe themselves as well adjusted, extroverted, assertive, and direct in asking for what they want; and tended to have several very close friends” (p. 112). So although there have been childhood traumas they were not so severe and/or the:
psychic’s paranormal experiences act as a nurturing retroflection, a self-feeding, whereas, in non-psychics, paranormal experiences are likely to be either a reaction to stress or threat to an important relationship. Access to this inner nurturing resource may have provided the psychic an internal object around which her personality could organize despite the limits of her actual environment (p. 117).
In other words, the psychics in his study found a coping strategy which works without “serious distortions in their overall personality functioning (p. 117).” Goldenthal did not look at when the experiences started (childhood or adulthood).
Several other items from his questionnaire are of interest to this discussion. In terms of very early childhood memories (<3 years), as discussed in the introduction, he found that although the same percent of each group reported a “few clear images (59% & 52 %) more of the psychics (21%) said these memories are very vivid while only 2% of the controls reported this and conversely 28% of controls said none at all were vivid compared to 14% of the psychics.
Similar to the data reviewed for other experiences, this group of psychics scored significantly higher on two items assessing absorption. Also related to our question is the significantly higher incidence of flying dreams reported by psychics which have also been reported in lucid dreaming (Green, 1968) and OBE’s (Irwin, 1985).
Goldenthal’s work supports the need versus flaw theory of the development of psychic experiences. He writes:
The psychics tended to report their initial psychic experience occurred either in relation to an acquaintance, a stranger, or not in relation to a person at all while the control group identified the preponderance of their psi experiences as occurring in relation to someone with whom they had an important emotional connection. This finding supports Ehrenwald’s (1978) work on need-determined versus flaw-determined ESP. Ehrenwald suggested that ESP in normals was characterized as an effort to deal with a threat to a significant emotional attachment, while in psychics it represents a generalized inability to screen out the intrusion of psychic material from others (p. 110).
Relatedly, Hartmann (1984) has recently developed a scale measuring nonpathologically thin and thick psychological boundaries in nightmare suffers. Galvin (1993) administered this to lucid and nonlucid dreamers and found the former to have thin psychological boundaries.
- Developmental Characteristics of Psychic Opening
In a reanalysis of Millar’s (1990) data on personal and psychic experiences of self-identified psychics associated with their “psychic opening”, Millar and Gackenbach (1992) focused on developmental aspects. Millar (1990) defined a psychic opening as “the process of becoming psychically aware, or to developing ESP abilities. It suggests the image of opening one’s eyes, or a flower opening, and it may derive from the esoteric theory that the psychic centers, or chakras, become open as a person becomes psychic. The term ‘psychic opening’ also suggests a relatively sudden or concentrated period of opening to new psychic experiences (p. 3)” Two basic types of questions were asked his 114 informants, personal history experiences preceding, during or after the opening period and questions about psychic experiences. Information was available so that it was possible to look at both types of questions as a function of age. The psychic experiences were asked in terms of frequency, belief and age of first experience (child, teen, or adult) while age when psychic opening experience began allowed the personal experience questions to be sorted into child/adult categories.
C1. Psychic/Transpersonal Experiences
Although 70, 52 said their opening began from ages 20 to 37 while 18 said it began from ages 38 to 54 respondents indicated that their psychic opening period began in adulthood relative to only 44, 22 said their opening began at less than age 5 while another 22 said it began between ages 6 and 11; the 13 teenage (12 to 19) openings were dropped from all analyses who indicated a childhood start, the vast majority of the 23 psychic/transpersonal experiences asked about were reported more frequently as first being experienced in childhood than in adulthood (18 of the 23 or 78%). The exceptions were psychic attack, possession and lucid dreaming (synchronicity and deja vu were about the same percentage). Although of very low incidence the first two are negatively toned while the third, lucid dreaming, has been argued elsewhere to be a post formal operations marker in sleep (Gackenbach, 1991) thus we would expect it more frequently to begin in adulthood.
The overwhelming consistency across this wide variety of experiences confirms an internal logic for the self identification of the two psychic opening groups as either child (<12 years of age) or adult (> 19 years of age).
The marker experiences for the childhood group (over 50% of respondents in that group indicated a first experience in childhood) included clairvoyance, telepathy, precognition, hearing inner voices, seeing a vision, deja vu, and mystical experiences while the marker experiences of the adult group (over 30% of respondents in that group indicated a first experience in adulthood) were clairvoyance, telepathy, seeing a vision, and deja vu.
When this was further broken down the child psychic opening group generally said each type of psychic experience began in childhood. While the adult psychic opening groups first experiences were largely placed as first starting in adulthood. The incidence of clairvoyance, telepathy, precognition, seeing a vision, out-of-body experiences (marginal), poltergeists (marginal), and near-death experiences were reported as higher for the childhood opening group than for the adulthood opening group.
The interrelationship between experiences as a function of group membership was investigated using factor analyses. Two experiences are of special interest, lucid dreaming and mystical experiences. Further verification of the relative dominance of lucid dreaming in adulthood versus childhood came from these analyses. Lucid dreaming frequency loaded on the first factors in the adulthood group analysis while it did not load significantly until the third factor for the childhood group analysis. For each of the populations, lucid dreaming loaded with very different experiences. For the adulthood group it was associated with kundalini, healing and mediumship, which was labeled “Psychic Jobs”, while for the childhood group lucid dreaming frequency was associated with deja vu, mystical experiences, and past lives which was labeled “Spiritual Memory”. Thus not only does the lucid dreaming factor vary in priority for each group but they are also associated with very different clusters of experiences. The adult cluster seems to be present/psychic profession oriented while the child cluster seems to be past/spiritual oriented.
It should be noted that these clusterings are consistent with traditional esoteric explanations of such experiences in children – i.e., a person develops spiritually in a past life and that development is carried over into this life. This explanation has been used by transpersonal developmental theorists (Armstrong, 1984). Another way of framing such an understanding might be in terms of genetics or other biological determinants. Wallace (1987) has summarized the research showing that there are biological determinants of such states of being including a genetic model for the concept of reincarnation. If indeed lucid dreaming is precocious, this framing may be helpful in keeping our understanding of these experiences within a naturalistic orientation.
The mystical experiences item loaded for both groups on the third factor but was associated with different clusters of psychic experiences. As noted above for the childhood group it was associated with the past lives, lucid dreaming and deja vu experiences while for the adulthood group it was near-death experiences and precognition. For the childhood group this suggests some type of consciousness savant (Gackenbach, 1988) perhaps with a genetic “past life” predilection or at least environmental support. While the mystical experience frequency for the adult group was crisis associated. That is, either near death or having experiences of the future (precognition) which research has shown is more likely to occur with those with whom you have a strong emotional attachment during crisis. Finally belief in such experiences in general did not change as a function of age of experience onset.
C2. Personal Experiences Associated With Psychic Openings
The personal experience segment of the questionnaire consisted of 80 questions, some with more than one part, asking about different aspects of the experiences. These are clustered in the discussion below into psychic practice questions (i.e., “Have you ever practiced as a psychic or offered psychic services to other people?”), childhood questions (i.e., “Were there any significant people in your background who either experienced or believed in psychic events and talked about them with you?”), preexisting circumstances questions (i.e., “Did you purposely seek to have these experiences, or did they just happen spontaneously?”), emotional response questions (i.e., “Were some of your experiences so positive that you felt ecstatic?”), circumstances during the experiences questions (i.e., “Did you you ever feel more tired and lethargic, or more ‘spaced out’ than usual, during this period?”), nonemotional qualities of the experiences (i.e., “Did you develop or become aware of a ‘witness’ or an ‘observer’ in yourself, a part of you that could retain awareness and choice during any psychic experience?”), time of the experiences (i.e., “Are you going through a period of psychic opening at the present time?”), consequences of the experiences (i.e., “Have any of your psychic experiences ever saved you from a serious or tragic event such as illness, severe emotional crisis, accident, or death?”), and coping strategy during the experiences (i.e., “What resources were helpful to you in adjusting to these new psychic experiences?”).
Although the majority of the items showed no significant differences between groups, the differences which did emerge offer some insight into some possible developmental causes of these states of mind and could not be accounted for by chance alone.
The preexisting/childhood conditions which differentiated these two groups of respondents, although the child group came from supportive environments evidenced by their own self reports of home attitudes and the higher incidence of alternative religions, which presumably might support such experiences more so than main line Judeo-Christian systems on the same hand they were less convinced of the reality of these experiences than the adult group. But perhaps for an adult to have these openings they need a firm belief system in place. Other than this general supportive environment there were not more specific activities and events, including an identity crises, which characterized the child group on the contrary there were less of these conditions thus the perception that they were overwhelmingly spontaneous or “just happened”. On the other hand the adult group was characterized by an identity crisis, more events and activities, stronger belief in the experiences, less childhood general support and more traditional religious background a set of finding which are consistent with Goldenthal’s (1985) work.
C3. Psychological and Situational Aspects of Psychic Opening
Millar and Gackenbach (1992) then looked at childhood psychic opening starts versus adulthood psychic opening starts groups on the psychological and situational aspects of the psychic opening experiences. These questions were clustered into emotional responses, circumstances during the psychic opening, nonemotional quality of the experiences, time of experiences, and coping strategies. Of the almost 70 items tested, only 17% showed a group difference. So the major finding here is that the situational and personal responses to these experiences whenever they start in the life span is largely alike. But again the differences are worth noting.
The child group saw it as less pleasant and were more likely to report having tried to deny or stop it than the adult group. The latter group was more likely to say they tried to negotiate with the experience. This supports the picture of a spontaneous, unexpected, and unprepared experience by the child group. The majority of both groups did not attribute physical symptoms to the psychic opening experience but when it did occur it was with adults. Similarly although the majority of both groups said they were not tired nor did they loss interest in activities when this was reported it was among the adult group. Not surprisingly the adult group reported changes in a specific relationship whereas the child group did not as a function of the psychic opening.
As far as the consequences of this experience, 26% of the items showed group differences. Two of these items dealt with religion while two dealt with helpful benefits of opening, one was a question about reliving the psychic opening experience and one dealt with consequences to a relationship. Regarding the religion items one asked, “If there has been a change in religion, do you attribute this change primarily to your having had psychic experiences, or was it mainly due to something else?” Those who claimed childhood openings said their religious change was due to the psychic opening (78%) compared to only 47% of the adult opening group. The majority of adult opening group (53%) said it was due to other things. Although the majority of both the childhood and adulthood groups said they believed their psychic experiences were of a religious or spiritual nature more of the childhood group said no to this item. So to with spontaneously reliving the the psychic experience, the majority said no, while of those who were likely to say yes they did, more were from the childhood group. Not surprisingly the childhood group said the opening experience resulted in no change in their primary relationship, which presumably occurred well after they were started with their experiences. Finally, the childhood group was more likely to say that any of their psychic experiences saved themselves (90% versus 66%) or someone else (98% versus 70%) from “a serious or tragic event such as illness, severe emotional crisis, accident or death”.
C4. Psychic Opening Conclusions
Although psychic openings beginning in childhood are in many ways similar to those beginning in adulthood the differences are informative and meaningful. In terms of psychic experiences first experiences, frequency, and belief, the first two showed meaningful group differences. First experience times for child psychic opening group was more often in childhood while the reverse was true of the adulthood psychic opening group. Childhood groups also had more experience in seven categories including OBE’s and NDE’s. The clustering of the marker experiences of interest herein in the factor analyses were different in such a way that the childhood could be thought of as inherent whereas the adult as learned/situationally driven.
Consistent with Goldenthal a receptive home environment to psychic activities was more associated with child than with adult opening groups. Specific activities/events were more often triggers for adults whereas the spontaneous quality characterized child openings. This could be because as children we are less aware of situational/personal influences and less analytical than as adults.
But with a felt spontaneous interpretation is the child groups higher likelihood to try to deny or stop the experience. The child group also saw religious changes due to psychic opening more than the adult group even though both saw them as religious/spiritual in nature. Finally the helpfulness of this experience for self and others was significantly greater for the child group. Perhaps they have had more time to learn how to deal with and respond to such experiences.
- Childhood Transpersonal Experiences in Two Cree Women
A recent qualitative study I did with two Cree women adds additional information to the possible adaptiveness of transpersonal experiences in childhood from people raised in a culture which still maintains some valuing of such experiences relative to the dominant culture in North America (Gackenbach, 1991).
Both informants are treaty status Cree from different bands. One is 30 years old (D) while the other is 51 years old (S). D has 4 sons while S has 3 sons. D is the oldest of six children with 5 brothers while S is the first born female of 10 children (5 girls and 5 boys). A single marriage for both (D by common law, S to a white man). Both finished high school and some college (S has just completed a general studies degree while D has about 2 years of college work). Childhood education was Catholic for both with S having had the first 1 1/2 years at a “convent” (boarding) school. Both lived off the band for some period during their life but were primarily raised in western Canada. Cree or an English/Cree mixture was their first language. D was raised in her family of origin with all her siblings but there was considerable contact with grandparents. D indicated that her grandparents and great grandparents were the most important to her along with her parents and brothers. S was raised partly at home and from 9 to 12 years she and her older brothers lived with her grandfather. S considers her paternal grandfather the most important figure in her childhood followed by her siblings, yet the negative impact of her excessively Catholic mother lingers. Both had other people living with them at various times throughout their childhood’s and both had alcoholic parent(s) for some of their childhood’s (D both) (S father).
D1. Day to Day Emotions/Feelings
The informants were asked to indicate on a questionnaire how they feel emotionally from day to day. These native women in general reported much more positive emotions than the normative samples to which their scores were compared. In contrast their negative emotion reports were slightly higher to about the same when compared to the norms.
The interviews allow us to gain a deeper appreciation of these findings. Both women are in the college transfer program at a native educational facility. Although they both had highly dysfunctional childhood’s they have both actively worked on their own personal healing of these early childhood wounds. Thus today they are generally satisfied with their life and continue this self growth. An interesting aside which emerged from the interviews is the different ways in which the women have gone about their respective healings. S has pursued a vigorous program of college work in psychology along with training courses and workshops on various aspects of the healing process as well as individual psychotherapy. D, on the other hand, went through an intensive “self talk” program at about the time of the birth of her first children. This included a free expression of the rage and pain she felt due to the circumstances of her upbringing. She attributes her sense of strength and self confidence to this period of self healing.
D2. Dream/Waking Transpersonal Experiences
The healing spoken of in the last section did not occur only within the realm of what we would call traditional psychology. For both women their spiritual experiences (including and especially their dreams) were a pivotal aspect of their recovery. These two women are high dream recallers, supporting their claim of the centrality of these types of experiences to their life.
An indicate of childhood distress would be the frequency of nightmares and night terrors, a severe form of nightmare, during childhood and adolescence. These native women had the same frequency as college students while children but report experiencing fewer nightmares as adults than either population. They also report fewer night terrors across the developmental board. The interviews shed some light on these findings. Given the extreme distress of their respective childhood’s the self reported frequencies could be underestimates due to the forgetting associated with trauma or as they both point out their dream life provided a sort of haven from the horror of daily life and thus they may have indeed not suffered as much as the non-native subjects. Only more data from more subjects can shed light on these two possibilities.
The research and clinical literature clearly characterizes lucid and archetypal. These are dreams that carry a sense of importance, awe and fascination. They may be reminiscent of mythology, fairy tales, or be felt to have a religious/spiritual significance dreams as emotionally powerful and uplifting (Gackenbach & LaBerge, 1988; Hunt, 1989). One of the native women reported more than the two norm groups while the other women reported less than the norm groups on these two types of dreams. From the interviews my sense is that both may not be accurately reporting their frequencies. I think D may be overestimating while S I suspect is underestimating. This is because of not only the formal interviews but the extensive dreamwork I have done with S which has shown me that she quite frequently experiences at least lucidity. D potentially represents an “outlier”, that is someone whose frequencies are so high as to be totally outside the normal range. In this area of inquiry such high frequencies are not unheard of (Gackenbach, 1991). The interviews thus far do support that she has a pattern of higher states of consciousness experiences from very early childhood which would support her frequency estimates.
OBE, mystical and ESP waking experiences were asked about in this questionnaire. Both native women reported fewer OBE’s than the normative samples. The ones S had were associated with her two near-death experiences which is a classical association. As with the lucid/archetypal dreams above D reported more than the norms while S reported less than the norms. The same reservations as for the positive types of dreams apply to these waking experiences. As I have gotten to know these women, especially S, it has become clear to me that some of her frequency estimates are based on the use of a different descriptive language for these states of being. I am unsure if this is the case with D. However, based on the interviews I found D very verbally intelligent, capable of sophisticated linear reasoning whereas S’s learning and reasoning mode seems to be more dominated by visual components. Thus in terms of the language/thinking modes of these two women, I believe that D fully understands the language and type of “western” thinking I engage in as an interviewer while S and I have had to spend a considerable amount of time translating terminology. this may be in part due to their age difference with D. having more exposure to western ideas as a child then S. I should point out that although both have had exposure to Cree, and S speaks it somewhat, neither would characterized her primary language as Cree at this time.
D3. In-depth Interviews
As noted above I have collected and roughly transcribed (taken notes on) about 14 hours of in-depth interviews with these women (about 6 hours on D and 8 hours on S). The focus of my analysis has been the relationship between the emergence and felt significance of these psychospiritual experiences and life events of a impactful or traumatic nature. Almost without exception every spiritual experience was associated with a period of life which was impactful in either a positive or negative manner.
I will now briefly summarize each case through the childhood years before drawing conclusions.
D3a. S’s Childhood Summary
S’s earliest memory was being in a carriage in the sunshine at about 1 to 2 years of age. She felt different because she couldn’t play and was very ill for the first two years of her life. The doctors said she was going to die so her parents took her home to take care of her. She was allowed short times in the carriage and loved the sun. Around this time she felt, “I shouldn’t be here, this isn’t the right time or the right place for me.” She had a sense that she knew a lot but not what and she was not afraid of death.
When she was very young her dream life unfolded as she was ill. She comments that, “dreams were accepted, whereas, fantasy might not be accepted so much.”
From as early as she can recall she has had a guardian who she calls her friend. He was “somebody that was there with me” and he’s “always been the same”. “He was always the only adult I could count on other than my grandfather.” He was there to protect and warn her only when she needed him, like “My dad was going to come home and really [be] angry.” He was like a shadow, no substance but she could see the outlines of him. She feels his presence at first then he appears to her right.
Earliest recollection she has of an incident associated with him was when she was three years old. S told her mom that he had appeared but her mom did not pay any attention. A few days later she was in a wagon with her parents and cousins. As they went down a dip in the road one of her cousins pushed her out of the wagon and she fell onto the ground. The wagon wheel went over her body. Fortunately there a small indent in the road into which she fell. So although she suffered some liver damage she was otherwise fine. If she had been on the flat part of the road she would have been crushed. She said that her father commented afterward that that she was “being watched over”.
Also at age 3 she recalls when her brother lost money their mother had given him for milk. He came home and knew he was in trouble so he told S to find it in a dream. As he expected her to be able to do this it is likely she had been doing it before. She says she recalls that incident cause they were in trouble if it was not found. In her dream she asked a lady to find it. They retraced his steps and found it in the dream between the slates of a wooden sidewalk. Then she awoke and they went to get it.
For a lot of people dreams are teachings. My grandfather believed that if you listen to your dreams you could learn things my ancestors knew how to do,” S recalls. When she was 3 or 4 years old she took on the responsibility of the younger children, which is a common practice among Native families. She relates how her teaching dreams of that period used to help her take care of the younger children. For instance, she would learn how to make a toy or how to fix something.
When she was about 3 or 4 years old she was with her grandfather getting herbs and he explained that trees were life, “like people”. S recalls that she told a tree a secret reasoned now that her grandfather probably heard her. As she got older she felt she could tell her troubles to the trees and especially liked the “white poplar”. “I feel connected to the earth, I’m not an alien being”. She continues that “the earth is part of me and I’m part of the earth . . . The tree is part of me and I’m part of the tree . . . it’s a belonging . . . used to dream of trees.”
Her guardian came to her when she had a very serious cough and told her it would be fine. She felt comforted and did recover. She goes on to comment that before she was 5 years old it seemed that she was always sick with ear aches and sore throats. As an adult she wonders if that wasn’t her way of getting attention because she had so much responsibility for the younger ones.
At about this time she received teaching dreams about fairness. For instance, if she was going to do something to her brother which wasn’t too nice, she would have a dream where she would experience his emotions about it. There were a series of these dreams each with a slight variation on fairness. Thus she was and still is always sensitive to fairness and balance.
A specific learning dream she had about this period was once when her mom and dad had gone grocery shopping which usually took an overnight trip. She was left with her sibs and a baby-sitter. There was not much food in the house. S dreamt of someone “showing me how to pick some herbs and some onions.” When she awoke S told her brother that she “dreamt where we can find something we can make a soup out of.” They went and picked the things and the sitter helped them cook it. “It was good.” She comments that she might have seen someone do this before and simply recalled it when the information was needed. But most of her childhood there was not much food in the house; so much so that now as an adult she gets very anxious if the house is not well stocked with food.
“At five years old I had my tonsils out and had my first out-of-body experience. I remember being above my body and looking down at the nurse and doctor working over me. I wasn’t breathing or having difficulty breathing, I’m not sure which, I was scared at first but I was a bird and felt safe as one. There was a light up above me like a skylight and I headed for it but never got there. I heard my name being called and I started to come down it was warm and bright above and cold below when I came down. It was sad and cried because I had to come down from the safety above.”
She also tells of being able to see things when she was awake. Once when she was somewhat less than six years old her younger brother and sister who were 2 and 3 years old rode a horse away from the house. The horse came back without the toddlers and her mother was frantic about their whereabouts. S could see them in her head and told her mother they were fine even though the horse had left them a ways from home. “I could see the area they were in,” she relates. When she was trying to locate them something came into the picture in her head that she could recognize (how a road went and a tree). She told her brother who quickly went and got them. They had been playing and were not at all scared when their brother showed up.
By the time she was sent to convent (residential school) she was 6 1/2 years old. Her mother had had 11 children in 16 years so already there were several at home. Her older brothers also went. When there she says she “made the mistake of telling the nun about my dreams and I was told it was the devil. . . I learned then not to talk to other people about it … [and to] pretend I wasn’t different.” As a consequence of this move she started to lose the ability to picture things in her head which her grandfather had told her was a gift that should not be misused. During her time in convent school she stayed in a dormitory with 20 or 30 other girls. Her dreams during this period were not the greatest as she felt lonely even though one of the girls was her cousin. As with many other Natives in this situation she went speaking a mixture of Cree and English and really wasn’t sure which was which. When she spoke Cree she was punished.
After about 1 1/2 years in the convent school her parents quite unexpectedly came to get her. They went to the city to live for about six months. During some time in this period they had a baby-sitter who used to lock them in the closet when their parents went to work and would threaten them if they told. One day her godmother had a day off of work and came over to take them to a show and found them locked in the closet. The baby-sitter was fired.
After she left the convent school she would dream often of the devil although she never knew what he looked like. He was always trying to get her and she would wake up crying and screaming. Her fear of the devil was there because of her mothers strict Catholics but not anywhere as fearful as what she learned about him at school. In a typical dream of this period she would be in a one-room house with her brother and sister who were smaller than her. The devil was trying to get in first by the door which she blocked then by the windows which she also blocked. Then he came down the pipe of the pot bellied stove and tried to get off the lid and come in. S struggled with him to keep the lid on and screaming she would wake.
She also traces her first lucid dream to this period right after leaving the convent school because they were her control. The first time she recalls she was sick in bed for about 2 weeks and it was beautiful outside when she realized she can appreciate the outdoors in her dreams if not now when awake. “That was my safety,” she explains.
She then went to the new school on the reserve. At about age 9 S went to live with her grandfather. This was not unusual as she would often go to stay with him for a few weeks or a few months. This time she and her closest brother stayed with him from Sept. to June as the rest of the family moved. The devil dreams intensified during this period she says because she was having lots of problems with her grandfathers wife (not her grandmother). “That was the time I was molested by her grandson,” who was briefly also staying with them. He seemed huge to her and was probably a teenager at the time. She told her step-grandmother who did not believe S. Thus she did not feel safe in that house either unless her grandfather was there. However, he was the chief and had a lot of responsibilities away from home. “He protected me as much as he could.” She never told her grandfather about the molestation as she felt there was really not much he could have done. At age 10 she was molested again by someone she knew.
The devil dream took a turn for the worse around this time. Now she was inside a house and the devil appeared on the inside of the door she needed to use to exit the house. He was shaped like a wolf but with no hair, a long nose, big ears, and horns. He was alive in the door and would move around in the door. She would wake up and go crawl in bed with her sisters as she could no longer stay in that setting.
During the time she was having the devil dreams she noticed that the learning/teaching, freedom and future dreams all just shut down.
At about age 10 one night S had a dream that she was going to fly. Flying for her in dreams is freedom especially because she has been sick so much. Normally she changes into a bird when she flies. But with this dream she did not change into a bird and that frightened her. “I was still in my bed” and the bed and S started flying and she knew “I was over using that [ability]”. It didn’t feel wrong I just didn’t understand it. She woke up scared and told her mother and her mother said “it’s imagination”. She felt like she had lost control. What was happening had never happened before. She new when it happened that she needed to try to wake herself up, thus it was a lucid dream. Then she went back to sleep and it happened again. She began to fly, did not turn into a bird and she and the bed began to levitate. She woke again and her mother came in again and put a mat by her bed to sleep next to her to comfort her. Then S said while awake this time, “Mom it’s happening again.” The bed was far enough off the floor for her mother to see it and she was terrified. Her mothers terror increased Ss own fear. Her mother started praying and said “it’s the devil controlling it.” Then the bed dropped and she grabbed S and took her into her room to sleep.
S commented that it seemed that the only time the devil came into the picture was in her dealings with the Catholic church. If using a Native or a Protestant perspective she experienced no problem with the devil.
I asked her if she had ever had an IAM experience. She told me how all her life she has felt out of sink with the world except sometimes she walks into a stream of light and “as I’m in that stream of light I understand everything around me, I understand my surroundings, I understand the world, I understand myself.” She says at those times she thinks, “none of this is complicated, why do we make it so complicated” She walks out of it and is back to who she is. At first she thought she was imaging it but has had it so many times that now she believes, “it’s just a glimpse.” She says, “when I’m in that space I could do almost anything, I’m strong. . . I feel the goodness around me but I feel that nothing in life we are being asked to do is difficult, we make it difficult ourselves.”
S spoke of two experiences which she had twice as illustrations of the difference a lifetime makes. Each experience was early in her life (childhood and late teens) and reappeared a second time during or after menopause. She explains that the same experience takes on a different quality. “It’s like when you go to a movie when you [are] a child. You see this movie and you think how fantastic and so on. Then you go again and see it as an adult but as an adult you pick up the real characters; you pick up the in-depth; you pick up what’s really happening.” These experiences she explains when they occur around menopausal have meaning, richness and depth. The message to her is “this is what I’ve been trying to tell you all your life.”
As a child she would question did it really happen but as an older adult she was sure. The first illustration she gave me of this experience was seeing a big ball of light, pulsating energy with a voice which filled the room. Of the experience at 8 or 9 years of age she writes:
This was a spiritual dream of God appearing to me. In this dream I began by being afraid of something unknown to me and I wanted to hide, then I decided to pray, for in my dream I knew he would help me. Then this big ball of pulsating light appeared and I could hear the words this ball of energy was saying as an echo in the room. It said, “I am the goodness that you must follow and if you believe in me and trust me I will always be there to help you. If you wake up now you will see me.” I woke up and saw this light beside my bed and I was no longer afraid. I ran to tell my parents and they said it was only a dream it had not really happened.
The most recent one occurred after she had been up awhile praying and using her pipe. It appeared in the midst of this ritual. It explained about God and that God could help her and her people. “When we pray to God we are looking to the goodness within ourselves.” While with that energy she said, “I had no room to be anything else but me, the real me.” She said “what I felt was a total trust . . . I felt humble.” “If you can feel kindness and love coming from energy, that’s what it was.” When I asked her what was happening in her life as an adult about the time of the experience it turned out to be a period of considerable stress. At the school she was working for as a play therapist six of the children were suicidal, her son had just broken his back, and they had just unexpectedly adopted another son.
The other early and late life experience she shared with me was a dream from her late teens when she walked up to St. Peter who was an Elder and he showed her the book of knowledge. In the dream she said “but this all common sense.” She had this again in the 1980’s when she was working with the children. In that dream the Elder told her “this is the knowledge you need to have a good world.”
D3b. D’s Childhood Summary
D can trace her earliest memories to when she was about 7 or 8 months old (pre 7/8 months a memory of sleeping with her parents and closeness and contact comfort). She places the memories then because her parents told her she started to walk at 9 months, an event she recalls. These things happened before her walking. She says of these early memories, “I don’t know why it’s important to remember that part of my life . . . but it’s so picture clear in my memory.”
These first memories are when she was at her grandmothers while she was sharing a crib with her Auntie who was also an infant and close in age. Her family lived with her paternal grandparents for the first three years of her life. She recalls the crib because she hated sleeping there. She relates details of the room, it was “painted a yucky kind of green.” She says she talked to her Auntie but not through words from the mouth. She says it was mind to mind with words. She muses, “if words, where did I learn those words?” Then goes on to explain, “I would be dominant of her [auntie].” Their ultimate goal was to be entertained or occupied. D never asked her Auntie if she recalls but says, “it happened, it happened,” and that she never tried to understand it. They were “always looking for something to make us laugh. . . Everything around us was kind of comical.”
About herself at that time she felt, “I shouldn’t be here . . . I felt like I was older. . . I’m too old for this body.” When asked what her feelings were most of the day, she replied, “happy . . . everything was so funny.”
Then at nine months of age she recalls when she first walked. She was at a Sundance with her great-grandmother who was blind, but D did not know that at the time. The music came which “just made me want to dance.” “I got up and started dancing.” Her parents told her she walked up to the Sundance pole. D says, “what I remember is seeing a man . . . it wasn’t a pole it was a big man . . . he was dancing.” About him she says, “he wasn’t dressed in anything, he was clear. . . like a cloud . . . he had two legs, two arms, head, a deep voice . . . he was singing and he was dancing . . . I saw him and I wanted to dance . . . he made it so happy . . . everyone around me was so serious . . . I held his hand and I danced with him.”
She recalls playing in a dog hole under the porch when she was under two years of age. The dogs did what she wanted. She told them verbally and mentally to get out but she could not hear the dogs.
She also tells of an incident from this period when she planned to go to town with her parents after she’d been told no she could not. “I was a balloon freak,” she explains. And the balloons were sold at a place on the way to town. No sense of streets just knew when they were getting closer. She snuck into the back seat of the car where her grandmother saw her but said nothing. So she got to go but it was boring, I “didn’t enjoy the rest of the day,” she concedes.
When she was three years old they moved into a house of their own. Around this time three little men used to come to play. They were “little guys, same height as us.” The other children she played with could also see them but not the adults. They had long stringy shoulder length brown hair and wore regular clothes. When asked about the color of their faces she replied, “in my mind there is no color” because she explained that not until she was 6 years old did she realize that people have different color faces. Of these men D says, “they played with me all kinds of games eh, but they were the ones in control.” They controlled the games so that her only control was the rejection of I won’t play. They also sung songs. It was always three men, always the same three, and they had no names. She continues that they would “do things to us at night . . . we’d be in our bed. . . these little guys would be under the bed, they’d tip the bed up.” We’d all laugh a lot. Her grandmother said it was ok but not her mom. As adults she and her aunties/uncles/cousins who she played with at the time recall them together. They would also be at her grandmothers house and slide down the banister but the adults never noticed it and the kids would crack up. They would push her on a swing or in a stroller. D explains, “It’s real, I know it’s real, I touched them, I felt them . . . I really think they are real.” She would talk to them in words and her mom would ask her who are you talking to and she would say the little men. At about age 5 her mom told her they were not real. She was more concerned with her moms reaction and thus told the men “I can’t play with you anymore.” She explain that they seemed to fill the sense of loss and loneliness she had. They filled the gap until her brothers were old enough to play with.
At about age 4 or 5 D and a bunch of her children relatives saw her paternal grandmother floating in the air outside above the highway. They ran back to the house and she was there. But shortly after that her grandmother left the house with the four younger children (of 15) and moved to the city after a shooting incident with her alcoholic husband. He had come home drunk and angry and they all ran out into the corn field. He grabbed her auntie and threatened to kill her. He was yelling “I’m going to kill you” over and over. Her grandmother went to her grandfather to get her auntie. He let go of the auntie and cocked the gun at her. D’s great-grandmother ran up and pushed him and the gun went off but it missed her grandmother who then left him.
When D would go to north to visit her maternal grandmother she would sleep with her blind great-grandmother. Once after the attempted murder she was visiting in February and the cows were calving too early. It was too cold for the calves so they brought one into the house to be near the pot bellied stove. D says “I was so terrified of that calf. . . [it] wasn’t able to walk yet.” Ordinarily she explained she was not scared of the cattle. “It seemed like its eyes were glowing .” As it tried to walk she was scared it was trying to get her. She kept hanging onto her grandmother who said it was ok but she felt little comfort. It only happened that one night.
Later that year in the summer they went again to visit. She was alone in the house with her 98 year old blind great-grandmother as D had been told to take care of her and D’s little brother. Suddenly the “cows were charging the house.” “They hit the house”, the house shook. “I was just screaming.” They did it only that one time when they were being moved from one field to the next.
Another shooting incident occurred before she started school at her grandparents up north. Her grandfathers brother and daughter, who had been drinking, had come to his house. They were told to leave. A gun was pulled out by the brother. D hid under the bed and was crying. She said she was afraid she was going to die. The brother started to shoot at the house. Someone ran to the store to call the police. They came to the bottom of the hill upon which was the house. They walked up to the house. Her grandmother was slapping D’s auntie for drinking. They took the brother to the police car while handcuffed, he shot the policeman. It was an Indian policeman. Before this D sensed her uncle had a good heart but after this she was distant with him.
About this period she said “everything around me was good, eh” things seemed to come from outside which were bad.
She recalls a devil incident from when she was about 5 or 6. She was going to the bathroom at the outhouse with her auntie who was about her age. D saw a man walking about 50 yards away. He was all black and had horns, a tail and a fork. He did not wear a black outfit, he was just all black, a very deep black. She yelled at her auntie to come out to see this as she was scared. She also saw the man. He was walking across from one set of bushes to another. “While he was walking he was looking at me,” D explains, with fear in her voice as she recalls the incident. They went in and told D’s grandmother who said it is your imagination.
Another incident of this period was hearing scratching on the window in the middle of the winter. She was afraid to go to bed and looked out the door and saw nothing. Then on the window she saw three scratch marks on the inside window of a double glassed window.
D did not go to kindergarten and at 6 years D entered grade 1 where she found out she was an Indian. She had made friends with a white girl who played with her, held her hand, and was special. Then one day she came to school and told D “I can’t play with you anymore . . . cause your an Indian.” D asked, “What’s that?” She learned quickly that Indians and whites were different in this integrated school of Catholics and natives.
“All these years [before 6] my mom and dad were always there for me, but now “I’d get home from school and there’d be nobody there. . . It was really frightening for me. . . They wouldn’t come back all night. . . My parents started drinking when I was six, grade 1.” They would leave her younger siblings at her grandparents but figured she was old enough to stay home alone. They drank from when she was 6 to about 14 years old. Her grandmother told her that they had to finish growing up but D protested, “I was growing up too.”
When she went to school she discovered it was not ok to talk Cree yet she received mixed messages cause when she went to her grandmothers it was not ok to speak English! She recalls at age 7 being hit on the hand in school for speaking Cree and comments “I learned real young it wasn’t ok to be Indian.”
In general it seemed that the psychospiritual experiences ceased during her grade school years. The school years, she explained, were all education. Her parents split up when she was 9 or 10 years old but later reunited. She remarked that when her parents drank she felt “thrown away”. She had to take on a lot of the household and childcare responsibilities because of their drinking. So she became increasingly angry. She recalls having nightmares during these years.
She does tell of one incident when she was about 10 years old. Her mother had been hospitalized with blood clots in her legs. The doctors wanted to cut the legs off. Her grandmother said no and took her mother home. She treated her at home for months. At one point D and her sibs were all around her mother’s bedside and her grandmother was drawing blood from the legs. The grandmother told the children that it was spiders coming out. D insists that she saw spiders and so did her sibs. Her mother recovered full use of her legs.
One spiritual experience which she had 5 or 6 times a year seemed to mark her reentry into spiritual experiences. She would see big lights at the end of her bed just as she was going to sleep. She did not want to get sucked into it. She was frightened of this for many years. She was paralyzed when she would first see it and said she felt like she was not sleeping. She would open her eyes and see this huge light at the end of the bed. It was a full circle about 4 feet in diameter with a male voice telling her to come. She kept saying no. She would pinch herself on the finger to stop the paralysis and when it ended the light would still be there and she would kick it and it would then disappear.
Other spiritual experiences also reappeared during early adolescence. She speaks of a time of apparent poltergeist activity, and seeing eagles eyes in a wall. Also during these early adolescent years she did some very serious acting out regarding her parents drinking. She told them to stop drinking or she would run away and did that a number of times. She said she was filled with rage at this time about what they were doing. They did both stop drinking, first her mom and then her dad. Her mom went to AA but her dad did not.
Of her life she says, “I went through a lot of difficulty in my life, there was a lot of confusion, a lot of pain, a lot of suffering but at the same time I can’t hang onto that, I’ve got to let that go eh . . . and I’ve let that go and life is beautiful . . . a lot of people don’t know how to let it go . . . they let all that past garbage control them.”
Although these women were from different bands they are both central Alberta Cree and probably share a considerable cultural heritage. In addition to the questionnaire information about experiences in sleep and waking D and S had three experiences which were very alike. They both spoke of a comforting cloudy/shadowy man, D when she first walked and then later as an adult in a dream and S every time before she has a crisis. They both had experiences with large balls of light in their bedrooms and in both cases the experience stepped over the boundaries of sleep and waking but their responses to the light were different. D was afraid to go with it and S found comfort from it. Finally, both spoke of levitation experiences (interestingly within a day of speaking to each). S had her only levitation experience as a child and was quite frightened by it while D commented that her husband says he sometimes wakes and she is levitating but she sees nothing remarkable about that as her mother used to do it all the time.
D’s early life was by her recollection unstressful for the most part at least within the family core. The emphasis in her memories is on these preschool years with remarkable detail and clarity. Although S also has very early memories they are not as clustered as D’s and span the entire childhood. S’s early memories of a psychospiritual nature seemed to have developed in response to being severely ill (she almost died twice before age 5) while D enjoyed good health. Both being first born girls they carried a lot of responsibilities for their siblings starting early in life. S used her abilities in response to this while D did not mention such a use.
Both women report being raped early in life. In the case of D this rape, along with several other negatively impactful life events early in her school years virtually brought to a standstill an almost constant state of “bliss” or what might be called “mystical” awareness.
S experienced her first rape (both were raped more than once) during early adolescence and shortly thereafter began to experience severe nightmares. Her dream life, which had protected her for years from a life of severe familial dysfunction and physical illness, had turned sour in her middle childhood due to molestation’s and rape. In fact, her awareness of the connection between the nightmares of that period and her rape emerged while we were conducting an interview. She was then able to take this new knowledge into therapy and work through its implication for her current life situation. Although the direct connection between these events was not made until her 50’s, she was able by late adolescence to reclaim the rich supportiveness of her dream life.
In summary both women showed early remarkable predilections for transpersonal/psychic experiences which were supported at least in part by some close family members and by their culture. However, by middle childhood years both discovered the negative side of life and suffered a change or cessation of their experiences as a result. In adulthood both have gone through considerable healing (individually and in therapy) and have been able to reclaim much of the experiences they started life with.
- Models of Transpersonal Development
First I will summarize some recent transpersonal models of development. Most developmental theorists agree that although there is adult development it is “horizontal” and is quite different than infancy and youth where momentous changes in psychology are accompanied by parallel changes in biology. That is, although we may become more wise as we age it has generally been thought that there is no fundamental biological changes which accompany this psychological breadth.
- Alexander’s Postrepresentational Model
Alexander et al. (1990) postulated a model of development which accounts for transpersonal experiences throughout the life span and as indicators of the natural direction of development. The adult development Alexander et al. talk about is not only in terms of post formal operational development of emotionals/intuitions and ego but changes that are “postrepresentational”. This concept of postrepresentation is key to Alexander’s theorizing as traditional developmental psychologists believe that there is really only one big developmental leap, from the sensorimotor to the representational teer. In the latter the child simply goes through three stages of increasingly sophisticated abilities to represent his/her lived world experience; preoperational, concrete operations, and formal operations.
Alexander and colleagues, as well as other transpersonal theorists, go further in their model than the development of feelings/intuition and ego. These they hold are still representational because there is still an the “object” of feelings or an ego to represent. They describe three postrepresentational levels of development (otherwise known as higher states of consciousness) which have several characteristics:
- They are as far beyond representational thought as representational thought is beyond the sensorimotor domain. Whereas sensorimotor period was dominated by action sequences in the world and the representational teer is dominated by symbolic activities, the use of the symbol is no longer necessary in postrepresentational thought. It is not simply more complex levels of symbolic use.
- They note that “such a fundamental qualitative advance in cognition … should presumably require major neurophysiological maturation.” Research has shown over 20 physiological changes associated with the postrepresentational level.
- “Postrepresentational development should resolve the fundamental epistemological and ontological constraint of the abstract reasoning level that the reflective knower cannot directly know himself … “
- Postrepresentational levels embrace lower levels just as the representational teer embraced sensorimotor. The entire ability to think about thinking would “take on the status of a subsystem, rather than the executor of, mental life,” says Alexander et al. Thus the use of the symbol would be subordinated to an entire new way of knowing.
- Finally, this group points out that “postrepresentational stages should be ‘higher’ not only in a purely structural sense but also in a functional sense.”
Why do so few people ever get there if this is the “natural” direction of development? Alexander et al. argue that it is because we lack the “cultural amplifiers” for such development. In other words, such higher states of being do not develop in a stable fashion out of a context of what is available in the environment. For instance, we put a big emphasis on an enriched environment for infants which exposes them to the appropriate cultural amplifiers (i.e., mobiles, bright wallpaper) thus moving them to the representational teer where the emphasis changes to the use of symbols (i.e., language, drawing). But we have very few postlanguage developmental technologies.
Alexander et al. point out that meditation is just such a technology and notes that, “a purely postconceptual mechanism may be required to free attention from the habitual domination of symbolic thought.” Meditation, as well as other postrepresentational technologies, “frees attention from the control of language and the semantically conditioned thinking process.” But in the absence of such technologies physiological development appears to “freeze” during adolescence or early adulthood.
Alexander’s group argue that “to label such higher stages as ‘mystical’ is a misnomer, for they ‘transcend’ the representational domain in no more mystical a way than abstract thinking transcends the sensorimotor activities of early childhood.” The just reviewed body of research has demonstrated positive relationships between subjective reports of higher states of consciousness and psychological and physiological well-being.
- Wilber’s Spectrum Model
Similar to the Alexander model is Wilber’s Sprectrum model (Wilber, 1987). Although Wilber talks of about 20 stages in the development of the human, he characterizes these in terms of three phases which can be summarized in seven stages. The lower half of his stages are based on the work of classical developmental psychologists such as Piaget and Erikson while for the upper half he draws on his reading of the “world’s esoteric spiritual texts” from east and west.
The components of Wilber’s model are basic structures, transition stages and self-system. He uses a simple metaphor to explain the difference between these three components:
The basic structures themselves are like a ladder, each rung of which is a level in the Great Chain of Being. The self is the climber of the ladder. At each rung of that climb, the self has a different view or perspective on reality, a different sense of identity, a different sense of moral obligation, a different set of self-needs, and so on. The changes in the sense of self and its reality which shift from level-to-level, are referred to collectively as the self-stages.
Thus, as the self climbs from say, rung 4 to rung 5, its limited perspective at rung 4 is replaced by a new perspective at rung 5. Rung 4 itself remains in existence, but the limitations of its perspective do not. That is why the basic structures of consciousness are enduring structures, but the self-stages are transitional or temporary phases.
Wilber further condenses these seven general structures/stages into three realms. The first three stages are included in the “Pre-rational” realm which is subconscious and pre-personal. He calls these stages Archaic (corresponding to Piaget’s sensorimotor), Magic (corresponding to Piaget’s preoperational) and Mythic (corresponding to Piaget’s concrete operations). The second realm is “Rational” and is self-conscious and personal. Only one stage is in this realm, the Rational stage (corresponding to Piaget’s formal operations). The last three stages are in the “Trans-rational” realm which is superconscious and transpersonal. The first is Psychic, which is also called “vision logic” or “integrative logic”. Then comes Subtle, where intuition is at its highest but is not reducible to “emotionalism or merely bodily felt meaning”. The highest stage in Wilber’s model is Causal: “unmanifest source or transcendental ground of all the lesser structures; the Abyss, the Void, the Formless.”
He quotes Aurobindo in describing this highest stage, “When the Overmind descends, the predominance of the centralizing ego-sense is entirely subordinated, lost in largeness of being and finally abolished; a wide cosmic perception and feeling of boundless universal self replaces it … an unlimited consciousness of unity which pervades everywhere … a being who is in essence one with the Supreme Self.”
Wilber points out that “although the rational, self-conscious realm is almost universally agreed upon, the other two realms are almost universally confused. Because the pre-rational and transrational realms are, in their own ways, non-rational, they appear similar or even identical to the untutored eye.” The confusion of these realms gives rise to one of two common mistakes. Either the transrational is reduced numinous experiences are characterized as childlike or schizophrenic or the prerational is elevated “neonatal fusion is elevated to spiritual wholeness or infantile magic is thought to ‘really’ be psychic paranormality.” He calls this the “pre-trans” fallacy.
- Critic of Major Models
I will take a moment to compare these two models. I consider these the two major models because Alexander et al. have a large body of empirical research supporting it and Wilber because of the degree to which he is cited and acknowledged as the leading light in transpersonal theory.
Alexander et al.’s model is more firmly placed in the current experimental and theoretical work of contemporary developmental psychology even when he gets to the postrepresentational teer he uses the constructs of the best of contemporary developmental psychology to build his theory. On the other hand Wilber’s work seems to be his personal sift of these various theories rather than a building on the experimental work of a field of inquiry and when he gets to his higher levels he virtually leaves developmental psychology behind. That would be fine if it was appropriate but Alexander has deftly shown that the concepts of the highest levels can be framed in terms of some of the concepts in developmental psychology. This difference is especially evident in Alexander’s emphasis on the biological basis of the development of higher states of consciousness. A biological perspective is almost totally lacking in Wilber’s work. For these reasons Alexander et al.’s model leads to specific and testable hypothesis more so than Wilbers.
On the other hand, Wilber’s strength and Alexander weakness is that the former considers in considerable detail what can go wrong. How we can become fixated or stuck in our passages through the stages of life. He not only considers the types of pathologies which can emerge but also spends considerable time discussing the appropriate interventions. Alexander glosses over virtually all of the trouble points in development under the rubric “stress”. By relating it to both psychological and biological stress he uses simplistic solutions for complex problems. To be fair more recently the introduction of Maharishi Ayurveda the issue of addressing problems has begun but to date, as far as I know, the teachings from Ayurveda are still largely physiological and largely scientifically untested although many of Wilbers higher order interventions have not been tested either.
They agree that the Eastern and esoteric philosophical and religious perspectives offer the best clues to the character of the highest stages of human development. But here too there are differences. While Wilber is very eclectic in his treatment of these higher stages, Alexander is essentially a disciple and stays within the teachings of his guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In defense of his choice Alexander lists five reasons for using the Maharishi’s presentation of Vedic psychology:
- 1) Maharishi is presenting this difficult material in scientifically testable terms,
- 2) TM is a uniform procedure to elicit these states of being,
- 3) large numbers have been trained in it,
- 4) Vedic psychology has a decidedly developmental orientation, and
- 5) it has enormous breadth.
One can see that the first three points are aimed directly at the scientist and are certainly relevant for any scientific inquiry into the development of higher states of consciousness while the last two are also true of many of the systems that Wilber draws upon.
When one system is emphasized the work is restricted to the confines of that system. Certainly the idea of looking for commonalties across systems appeals to the scholar. After all if there is real “truth” shouldn’t it be apparent in a variety of systems? Again to be fair Alexander and other Vedic scientists stress the universality of these experiences with or without meditation of any sort. Meditation simply facilitates, acts as a postrepresentational “technology” for the development of higher states of consciousness (HSC) via access to or transcendence to pure consciousness (PC).
Hunt (in press) points out that however one takes HSC they are challenged in the out-of-body experience (OBE), lucid dream, near-death experience (NDE) and mystical experiences of young children. These seem to embody highly abstract operations. Alexanders model allows that although a particular stage of development has ascendency at any one age, all levels (higher or lower) of development are available at any age. Thus the transcendent experiences of youth can easily be embraced in his model as can the human foibles of those at the higher stages.
Hunt disagrees with Wilber’s notion of the pre-trans fallacy (i.e., confusing apparent transpersonal experiences of the lower stages of development with those of the higher stages) preferring to see these as primitive or precocious forms of HSC. So too Hunt rejects the use of reincarnation (Armstrong, 1984) as an explanation because it is not a naturalistic account of spirit.
Hunt also considers, how do these experiences occur in childhood? He argues that the white light/mystical and OBE types of experiences exemplify synthesia or taking role of the other and are based on a cross model translation principle. It ought to be possible for these underlying processes to develop in their own right. There is no reason, in principle, why they couldn’t run ahead due to stress or developmental preciousness and thus decouple from the skills they normally serve manifesting as the OBE/white light experiences of childhood. But these free floating capacities may emerge in either positive or negative experiences. On the negative side we see night terrors and the annihilation feelings of childhood autism. Both emerge, according to Hunt, as compensations for each other. Hunt cautions that the 4-year old will not place the same significance on these experiences as an adult.
- Paper Summary
In this paper I have examined a range of experiences which illustrate turning around on deembedding the self and/or union, numinous states. These are both held to be elements of the experience of pure consciousness which was argued herein to represent the core state of consciousness. The closer one is to this core state the more pervasive the effect of its experience is on all other experiences in life. It is suggested herein that approximations of PC (i.e., lucid dreaming, OBE’s, NDE’s, IAM’s) serve an adaptive psychological function but may not have the pervasive positive effect of PC experienced on a regular basis.
Further it was shown that the whole range of experiences can occur in childhood and in some cases are likely to be at adult levels (lucid dreaming) or appropriate to the stage of development (NDE’s). The borderline experiences occur most often in response to pain of some sort (physical and/or psychological) but there is evidence that the core experience(s) may in fact signal a “consciousness savant” or some sort of precocity. Therefore, it seems that at least these sets of transpersonal experiences are adaptive in a narrow (response to pain) and in some cases a broad range (enhanced school performance) sense.
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