The Nature of Child’s Play.

“Over the last couple of years, the photos of me when I was a kid, the ones that I never wanted old girlfriends to see… well, they’ve started to give me a little pang of something — not unhappiness, exactly, but some kind of quiet, deep regret. There’s one of me in a cowboy hat, pointing a gun at the camera, trying to look like a cowboy but failing, and I can hardly bring myself to look at it now… I keep wanting to apologize to the little guy: ‘I’m sorry, I’ve let you down. I was the person who was supposed to look after you, but I blew it: I made wrong decisions at bad times, and I turned you into me.”
— Nick Hornby, High Fidelity.

“Well, then get your shit together. Get it all together and put it in a backpack. All your shit. So it’s together. And if you gotta take it somewhere, take it somewhere. You know, take it to the shit store and sell it, or put it in the shit museum. I don’t care what you do, you just gotta get it together. Get your shit together.”
— Morty, Rick & Morty.

Towards the end of my high school career, when I finally went to see a psychologist regarding the strange memories and experiences that had come to envelop my life, I did so with some trepidation. My limited experience with social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists had suggested to me that they could have just as easily been patients, and I feared this guy may just serve to reinforce my opinion. It turned out I was wrong. He was intelligent, passionately interested in the subject matter, and seemed to have a firm footing on more than one reality at a time. Though part of me was quite happy that he wasn’t judgmental, he seemed very careful about revealing any thoughts he had on my experiences. I knew I had to corner him, and I did, insisting that he tell me what he thought my flashback regarding the Doctor was all about.

This was a flashback that occurred somewhere on the bridge between 1994 and the following year. By that time I had remembered a wide variety of strange incidents and odd dreams, but it was nothing like what happened that evening. Unable to get any shuteye, I had been staring at my lava lamp while in bed and it suddenly seemed to have almost psychedelic effects on my vision, which was waving like the surface of a pond. When my eyes landed on a book on the shelf attached to my bed, a book I have yet to read — War of the Worlds, by HG Welles — I was instantly somewhere else, somewhen else. Later, when I would read Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Slaughterhouse Five, I was instantly reminded of the intense flashbacks I began having that evening. It wasn’t just remembering, it was reexperiencing.

Despite the length, this is the most condensed version I can muster. In this flashback, I had re-experienced hiding beneath my bed around five or six years of age. This I determined due to the leg braces I was wearing and the fact that I had worn them for a little under a year when I was a kid. From beneath the sheets and blankets hanging over my bed, I watched these creatures, some of whom had three toes, as their feet pitter-pattered across the carpet. They seemed to be going through things in the room, picking things up and examining them. Afraid they would eventually find me, I tried to scoot myself even further under the bed, but one of my braced legs hit a large box my parents had my sisters and I always keep there. It contained our drawings, report cards, and other such things. This not only made my leg abruptly jut out from beneath the bed, but made a loud noise for added effect. I winced and the silence in the room was deafening. When I finally opened my eyes again, I saw the feet and legs of one of the creatures standing by my braced leg, reaching down three, long, tan-colored fingers to touch it. Instantly it reminded me of the closing scene in the 1950s film War of the Worlds, which was my favorite movie at the time.

Certain for some reason that they would make me forget, with determined eyes I scanned this creature from his feet to his face so that one day, when my talents were good enough, I’d be able to draw him. I have in the years since, but I can never seem to get it right. I do know that he had eyes akin to those of a human’s, which is to say a white sclera, a yellow or brown iris, and a black-as-death pupil. His had a pug nose and his face was etched with deep wrinkles. His most memorable feature, however, was a long, deep-set, almost cartoonish frown.

Upon meeting his eyes, we were suddenly communicating mind-to-mind. They were scientists, I understood, and he was The Doctor. He was very old, very wise, and in some way served as a grandfather to me. After this, which seemed to be a form of internal yet interpersonal dialogue, I next found myself in a setting that seemed to be my room, but not quite. I was sitting down by my bed, looking up at the Doctor, though now he was different. He wore glasses that magnified his eyes instead of bearing eyes that were naturally that size, as was the case before. He wore a long white lab coat, had a stethoscope around his neck, held a clipboard and his cartoonish frown was inverted into a Cheshire grin. He told me that they just needed to run some tests, that this was just a check-up.

As he said all this, he seemed to be standing in front of me in a way that suggested he was purposely obscuring something, but all I could make out from behind him were bright lights, indecipherable chatter and a lot of activity a short distance away in my room. I also couldn’t ignore my growing suspicion that this was all a sort of dream we were sharing, one that he was sort of shaping into a false memory or cover-story.

It was an incredibly real experience, somewhere between a memory and mental time travel into my younger body. I experienced this formerly-forgotten event as if for the first time, and it was only the first of two such flashbacks I’d have that very night at sixteen. As my psychologist and I had been talking about the Doctor flashback, however, it was this that I so desperately wanted his opinion on, so I kept badgering him.

Finally, he let out a reluctant, “I think you had a confrontation with your Shadow.”

Though I knew what he meant, I had but a limited understanding of the concept. Before I had met him I had come across references to Carl Jung in my reading but had never read the words of the man himself. Around twenty years of age, I became rather obsessed with the ideas I found in The Portable Jung, however.

Jung referred to the total personality of an individual as the psyche, which he then broke down into three levels that constantly interacted with one another. The conscious mind, sensibly enough, would constitute everything we’re aware of at the moment. It’s the only sector of the psyche we ever experience directly. Regardless as to whether we have a present sensory experience, remember something or have a dream, we must experience it through consciousness. The personal unconscious is the basement or attic of psyche, the graveyard of the forgotten and repressed or dissociated. It is the giver of dreams and memories, shaper of perceptions, keeper of habitual behavior, passions and tendencies.

He saw yet another level to the psyche, however. Having studied myths from across the world, he saw recurring stories, themes and symbols, and in studying his patients, he saw many of the same themes and symbols manifesting in their dreams, fantasies and behaviors. In an effort to explain this, he posited the collective unconscious, composed of what he referred to as archetypes.

There are two ways of explaining archetypes that make some sense to me, and the first is a useful metaphor. Say that consciousness is a sheet of paper and all of our thoughts, emotions, and memories are iron filings sprinkled atop it. An archetype would constitute a magnet below that paper, arranging those iron filings in a pattern. The pattern of the iron filings provides the only evidence we have of the magnet, however, which we cannot perceive or interact with directly.

Another way of explaining archetypes is to compare them to instincts. They may, in fact, be extensions of them, but even if that’s not the case they serve as a useful metaphor. Upon reading The Portable Jung around twenty years of age, I remember Jung describing how a particular insect was driven to enact incredibly complex behaviors devoid of any training, which was essentially what he saw in his patients. Archetypes may then be seen as a bulk of instincts shared by the species that not only organizes behavior into specific patterns but also governs psychological forms and processes. As a consequence, they manifest not only in our behaviors and relationships but also in the realm of the imagination as well: our personal dreams, projections, hallucinations and delusions as well as in our literature, artwork, myths and religions.

While the manifestations differed from culture to culture and from individual to individual, they did so under certain constraints and in accordance with certain guidelines akin to how instincts function. Like instincts, archetypes are not learned but inherited, not personal but the legacy of our species. Like instincts, they cannot be directly observed, only inferred by their influence, their manifestations, how they arrange behavior and symbolic imagery. Unlike instincts, however, at least as popularly conceived, they influence not only behavior but psychology. It seems to me, as it did when I first read it, that archetypes are really the logical extension of instincts. Why wouldn’t they structure and animate the mind as they inspire and structure behavior?

In any case, Jung argued that these archetypes had a huge influence on the life of every individual and we must gain an understanding of them. To grow, to evolve as individuals, we must make the unconscious conscious, we must expand our consciousness. He warns us not to ignore the archetypal manifestations or to identify with them, but to become aware of them, to subject them to analysis.

All archetypes have a bipolar nature, which is to say they have within themselves what we might categorize as positive and negative qualities. Each archetype is also paired with a polar opposite, or shadow, and their relationship is one of interdependence. Whatever archetype we embody and personalize becomes our Ego, then, which casts its corresponding Shadow into our unconscious minds. The Shadow is essentially the anti-ego, serving as a collection of all we have repressed or have failed to bring out of latency in our conscious personality. We all bear both archetypes, but the degree to which each influences us varies in each individual and over time — and to have an excess of either is to live a life out of balance.

If the Doctor really was my shadow, then, at least at that point in my life, what kind of shadow was he — to what archetype did he correspond? If he constitutes an archetype at all it would by necessity be the Senex, which is Latin for old man. In his positive form, he often manifests as a mentor, wizard or shaman. Merlin, Obi Wan and Yoda are all often-cited examples. Disciplined and wise, he has often come from a distant, foreign land to offer knowledge and guidance. In his negative form, he takes the form of a tyrant, hermit or ogre who is bitter, brutal, greedy and stubbornly resists change. Rigid thinking, strict rules, harsh discipline and hierarchy are emphasized. He’s concerned with time, tradition and science. Prone to taking things seriously, he seldom if ever laughs or seems to enjoy himself. He is cold and distant, associated with depression, winter and death. With his frown, his interest in science, his status of a doctor, his claim that he was both wise and old to the extent of centuries and his clearly alien nature, the Doctor fit the negative end of the Senex polarity a bit too close for me to ignore.

Whether I was projecting the Senex onto the creature or the creature was purely a manifestation of my diseased mind is up for grabs, but at the archetypal level it doesn’t change the insight this might offer me about myself. Nimi, the female alien who used to come and visit me, typically at night, once told me that I was an Artist, that art was my “work.” If I am an Artist, it makes perfect sense that the Doctor, leader of his team of Scientists, would have served as a manifestation of my shadow. I am more creative and emotional; he is more logical and intellectual. As I said earlier, opposite archetypes attract — and Senex would serve as the shadow or antithetical archetype for the archetype Jung called Puer Aeternus, or the “eternal boy.”

Appropriately, the Puer is the predominant archetype when we are young and it focuses on play, as it is through play that we experiment, explore, and ultimately discipline our mind, develop our imagination, master our body and adapt to our environment. The Puer also has a bipolar nature, of course, and at the positive end of the pole you have the Divine Child, reflected in the mythical birth stories of figures such as Heracles, Horus, Cupid, Zoroaster, Moses, Christ, Krishna, and the Buddha. It can manifest as an adult with childlike qualities like Raymond from Rain Man, or a child with adult-like qualities like Calvin from the Calvin and Hobbes comic, Linus of Peanuts fame, or Allie Keys from Steven Spielberg’s 2002 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries, Taken. Despite coming into this world weak, vulnerable, and dependent on others to satisfy his needs, the Divine Child is powerful in that he attracts the attention of others, inspiring them, bringing joy, wonder and hope for the future. In its positive form, the Puer brings joy and wonder. He is optimistic and fun-loving, curious and creative, idealistic and insightful.

He is also fertile with possibilities and rich with potential, but this is but a temporary condition in our youth by necessity. Jordan Peterson explains that we have more neural connections at birth than we do at any other time in our lives, but that in that state we are essentially low resolution, latent potential. We contain possibilities and probabilities but are nothing for certain at all. Just within two years, however, we lose most of those connections, which he describes as akin to dying into your childhood personality. This is just the first period of neurological pruning we will experience as we grow, a process in which neglected associations are snipped away and only those that have been repeatedly reinforced remain. Use it or lose it: this is evidently how the brain develops what Huxley referred to as it’s “reducing valve.” With each brush-fire of the brain, the dead wood is burned away and our perceptions and character narrow further, specializing, adapting to the specific environment at hand.

As we develop, we come to see things increasingly less as objects and more as “shadows,” as Peterson puts it, though I think Colin Wilson hit closer to the mark when he used the word “symbols.” These symbols are only complex enough to let us do what we need to in order to survive and achieve our goals, little to nothing more. They are mental maps of sufficient detail: no more, no less. In terms of personality, our character becomes more solidified, which is why the hands that mold us when we are still soft are so influential. We further develop a relatively narrow set of unconscious and automatic programs triggered by familiar stimuli, or what Wilson refers to as the Robot Function. It happens again at the end of adolescence, between sixteen and twenty, where you die into the specialized, adult personality into which you are reborn with senses fine-tuned to your surroundings. When approaching adulthood, you settle on one role to the exclusion of all others. You adopt an apprenticeship, and so enter into an extremely narrow and limited training period that develops the appropriate skills. You become more competent at a specific set of things but become largely blind to all else.

Once we’ve adapted to life, after we’ve died to ourselves to do so more than once, we achieve the last half of life. We become the Senex. It is here that Carl Jung thought the proper path in our ongoing development was to come out the other side, that the head of the serpent had to swallow its tail. To adopt the positive qualities of the Senex, the old man must rediscover the child he once was and left behind and reintegrate him into his character. His work now involves opening old doors and rediscovering the world again, accessing new possibilities and regaining his capacity to play. He finds his source of enthusiasm, peace, creativity and joy for life. He not only gets to be what he has earned but regains the potential of the child he was forced to abandon in the process.

In Zen Buddhism, there is a concept known as Shoshin, or “beginner’s mind,” which is essentially a state in which you regain your lost sense of virginity to experience. Free of preconceptions, you approach something in a very present, open and enthusiastic manner. A much-quoted line from Shunryu Suzuki’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, summarizes it nicely, explaining how “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” This has clear ties to the positive aspects of the Divine Child and how an adult may integrate that aspect of themselves back into their personality.

This is not, however, the only form and path of the puer, nor is it the one most familiar to me, as I shamefully discovered months ago and has finally begun to set in. It was unnerving to watch a YouTube clip of Jordan Peterson profile the Peter Pan personality type. With every following word, I felt my wince tightening, my heart dropping further, my body sinking deeper into the sofa. My hand went to my forehead as if I were attempting to hide my face from someone in my empty apartment. With every following word, it became increasingly freaky, increasingly clear that he was talking about me. It was the story of the immature man-child, the old infant.

Pan is Greek for “everything,” which is appropriate enough, Peterson tells us, as he is the boy who refuses to grow up. He passionately strives to maintain the latent potential of childhood and resist the actuality of adulthood. This is largely due to his only available adult role model, Captain Hook, who is being chased by a crocodile with a clock always tick-tocking away in its belly. This Peterson refers to as the dragon of chaos, time and death, residing beneath everything. It has already bitten off his hand, in which place he has put the hook that earned him his name, and now the tick-tocking croc has got a taste for him. This, he explains, is a metaphor for what happens when you get older: time keeps biting off pieces of you and sooner or later, it will fulfill its destiny and devour you entirely. Just as a sense of mortality can spawn in some people, this circumstance with the croc traumatizes Hook so much he tries to increase his sense of control over everything, exerting power through cruelty, and so becomes at once a coward and a tyrant.

Seeing Hook for who he is, Peter Pan understandably refuses to end up that way, generalizes Hook as a characterization of adulthood as a whole and so naturally elects to extend his own childhood indefinitely. He flies off to Neverland, a place that doesn’t exist, to become King of the Lost Boys, which Peterson describes as a band of losers who can’t get their act together. Then one day it seems that his Shadow (which Peterson never seems to mention, despite being a fan of Jung and despite some clear correlations with the archetype of the same name) has somehow become detached from him and led him to London, into the bedroom of Wendy. She proves to be a mature girl that accepts her mortality and wants to have children one day. He sacrifices a potential relationship with Wendy, a real girl, however, and continues to content himself with Tinkerbell, an imaginary substitute, essentially the Fairy of Pornography, as Peterson suggested.

Though I’ve never read or heard it serving as an example, I think Rob Fleming, the lead character in Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel High Fidelity (and the subsequent 2000 film), certainly qualifies as a puer. There were two lines in that movie that articulated what Peterson’s saying here in a different way. One involved keeping options open to ensure you can always back out and never get trapped in something; the other, his realization that committing to nothing constitutes suicide by small increments.

A man in the grips of this shadow aspect of the puer aeternus detests restriction and oppression and values liberty and independence. He covets individuality and personal liberty. Individual freedom to the fullest extent. Unrestrained instinct, chaos and intoxication excite him. Limitations, restrictions and oppression are intolerable. He refuses the call to adventure into maturity, shying away from adulthood. Fearing commitment, this emotional adolescent forever extends his “temporary” life because he fears that in making a move he might lose himself and be caught in a trap of a career or imprisoned in a marriage.

Peterson emphasizes the fatal flaw in Peter Pan’s presumptions: you grow up whether you want to or not. Though you can postpone maturity in our culture without suffering an immediate penalty, Peterson stresses, the penalty accrues, and then when it finally hits, it hits much harder. You can be lost and clueless at 25, as it’s acceptable that you’re just trying things out at that age. When you’re instead in your 30s or 40s, people tend to be less understanding. You a have become a 40-year-old King of the Lost Boys, a man-child, an old infant, a living corpse of a child. So you might as well manifest some of that potential in a particular direction and choose to become something as opposed to nothing.

I’m 39. I’ll be 40 this November. Many who know me would undoubtedly say quite confidently that this is me in a nutshell. Since shortly after my high school career came to a close in 1997, I began referring to adulthood as the 13th grade and arguing that adults did not, in fact, exist. What we took to be adults were just children wearing masks, putting on costumes and trying to play the roles the culture tells them to play. They aren’t mature adults, they’ve just achieved that state of “seizure” a child experiences when playing a game of “as if,” as Joseph Campbell has put it, though not in this context. They mistook the game for reality, their masks for their true and original face, their roles for their souls. I always refused to do any of that. I opted out.

My most recent experience on psilocybin mushrooms seemed to communicate, among other things, that reality was a sort of multifaceted illusion, sort of a system of games, and the appropriate response was not to forfeit but to play. This resonated with the “child” theme that has followed me throughout my life and took in a rather life-like quality in the context of my strange experiences just shy of two decades ago. The ultimate message in the psilocybin experience was to play the game we call society or culture, to try and make this ride a meaningful one, to take these games seriously while simultaneously keeping in mind that it was all illusion and was ultimately of no consequence.

Now I find that the observations of those such as Jung and Peterson seem to suggest that it is futile to forfeit the game anyway, for in doing so you turn into precisely what I have become: an old infant, a man-child. Peter Pan in the flesh.

As additional reinforcement, there remains the fact that I’m still not convinced that a single, actual adult exists on earth. I still think our game is essentially stupid, but I am beginning to regret not having taken the game seriously, not choosing a role to play and having time force me into a rather pathetic and meaningless one. I’ve resisted intimate relationships, kept friends and family at an arm’s length, and have remained in an extended “temporary” job more suitable for high school kids. Fast food should serve as a sort of “scared straight” program to inspire kids to go to college and make something out of themselves so they don’t have to suffer this fate into their forties. For some, it’s worked out just fucking dandy; evidently, it has failed to work for me to this point. I’ve forfeited the game and remain here in a fast food McNeverland just because I’m afraid to play the role of the adult.

I should have identified an appropriate adult role for myself right out of high school, but I was too wrapped up in the craziness of what had happened, too depressed and anxious, too damned undisciplined and unstructured. I thought that of myself even then. I could have finished college when I finally went in my thirties, but the crippling anxiety that shot through the roof when I again attempted public speaking paralyzed me and I fled. I could have been a master of the visual arts and writing by now, translating what is in my mind more effectively. I might be living off my passions and expressing myself through play as a way of life.

I fucked up.

After enough sessions, the aforementioned psychologist gave me a homework assignment: to master the mundane. He told a tale of students going off on a vision quest, receiving a profound one, and returning to their master, excited for the next step, invariably disappointed when the master told them to chop wood and carry water. I needed to have my feet planted firmly on the ground, he told me. I needed a career, friends, a girlfriend. What he was saying makes more sense now than ever: I needed to go through the process Peterson described. And I didn’t, not really, and here I am, two decades later, with an inner child deserving of an outer adult to nurture it — an outer adult I have I have utterly failed to develop and provide.

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On Memory Issues With Strange Experiences.

The most unusual experiences of my life were ones that occurred when I was stone cold sober, though they certainly share certain qualities with my psychedelic experiences. In each category, the most frustrating obstacles deal with memory and translation.

Memory is problematic enough by nature and it doesn’t help matters that it is truly all we ever know of experience. Sorry, my dear Buddhists, but we know of no Here and Now. We are always living in the past. There is a time delay between when our bodies receive stimuli and when we experience it, a fact that I think Sam Harris has exemplified pretty well.

As he has explained, when I extend my arm to touch something the signals clearly have a longer journey to the brain than, say, when something brushes my nose — yet if I take my own finger and boop my own nose, I seem to experience both my finger touching my nose and my nose being touched by my finger in tandem. No apparent delay. How? Well, my brain waits until it has all relevant data before providing me with my perceptual experience.

Our immediate perceptual experience, then, is sensory memory, and so we are always living in the past.

On top of that there is the possibility that every time we remember something we are in actuality recalling our former memory of it. In other words, with every subsequent occasion in which we recall something it decreases in accuracy. This may not be the only way in which we can remember, of course — there may be ways in which that root, sensory memory can be directly accessed and it is only that this memory-of-a-memory chain is simply more economical and becomes a sort of default as a consequence — but without knowing how to switch gears or at least differentiate between them, we’re still left with the problem. We’re still left to rely on our increasingly inaccurate memories and often trust them too blindly.

In some instances, however, we aren’t even granted what ultimately constitutes false memories but are instead left with hazy recollections or, worse, no memory at all, save for perhaps remembering that there was something profound that has been forgotten. The easiest example is transitioning from the state of dreaming to awakening — or the similar experience of transitioning from being high on a psychedelic to being sober.

Why are carrying over those memories so damned difficult, however? Part of the issue, I suppose, is that in these cases we have to rely on memory greatly, even entirely, because leaving the state of dreams or the psychedelic-saturated sensory landscape takes away the environment (or the state-dependent perceptions of our environment) that would otherwise assist us in triggering any associated memories.

It may also be a translation problem, which is to say it may not only be that the memories themselves are state-specific but that the manner in which we were feeling, thinking and perceiving while dreaming or while under the influence of a psychedelic may be so distinct from our typical, awakened, sober mode of consciousness that they are lost in translation.

On the shroom trip some things seemed so clear, so self-evident in that state, but later seemed frustratingly out of reach. I get the sense sometimes that these experiences are allergic to language — much as is the case in my unusual sober experiences. It even seems at times that the experience becomes even more confusing as a result of my attempts to understand it.

Strata of Slumber.

Fail
to notice the absurdity
of a dream
until you awaken, laughing
at your naïveté:

before such madness,
you stood unfazed,
mindlessly
mistaking illusion
for reality…

Now you find
yourself in that position
of realization
once again,

under the influence
of this mystical fungus,

suddenly awake,
only to realize
how asleep
you’d been:

just a silly, naked ape
with a skull cradling
a dim-watt bulb

mindlessly
walking
in his sleep, stuck
in a dreary

dream, lightyears
from lucidity

and falling
back into slumber,

struggling
against heavy lids,
fucking frustrated.

Grateful for Amnesia.

To this day,
such an ominous
dream. It hangs
with me.

Watching
as you dance in the sky,
like fireflies
performing acrobatics

lighting up
the summer night
like a psychedelic Fourth
of July. Awash

with such an ominous
comfort
sprung from in between
the heightened,
swirling,

fear and yearning
glowing from within me.

Laying back, closing
my eyes
(as a shadow bolts from the forest)
and finish
just before the little creep —

before you —
shove your face
in mine,

successfully
dodging
those hungry twin silos
yet finding myself
fading to black

anyway, before awakening
on a cold table
in a room of fluid light,

where I slowly
come to the conclusion
that I am grateful
for the coming amnesia.

Dream of a Vanishing Drive.

2/2/18.

In the dream, I was at my parents house at night and had to leave for work, but when I went outside, my new car was gone. I looked everywhere, but it had apparently disappeared. When I went back inside and told everyone, no one seemed to care about how mysterious this was, how fucking frustrated it made me.

Eventually I went back outside and, to my relief, found that the car was there again. Wasting no time, I hopped in and started it up, noticing the time in the process — I was not yet late for work, as I had feared. I then started honking the horn to alert one of my sisters (or some girl) inside the house that I was ready to leave, as I was supposed to give her a ride. She didn’t come outside, however, and I was determined not to leave the car again in order to go get her, fearing it would once again vanish, and so kept up honking.

Somehow, I ended up going back inside anyway, only realizing once I was in there that I had somehow absent-mindedly left the car despite my fierce determination not to do so, which endlessly frustrated me.

Once back outside, my suspicion is confirmed: the car is gone yet again. I also vaguely recalled how something else had mysteriously vanished earlier in the dream, though I’ve maintained no memory of what it was.

There are a few things I noticed about this dream. First, I’ve been reading the first book in David Paulidies’ Missing 411 series for the last day or two, which I received through the local library. It deals with mysterious disappearances of people from national parks, which likely inspired the disappearing car (and whatever vanished earlier) from the dream.

My fear of being late for work in the dream might have something to do with the fact that I called off work Thursday night. I’ve been trying to stop drinking, but I was angry and depressed and caved in, only to drink too much on Wednesday night and pay for it due to my utter stupidity when I work up early on Thursday evening for my weekly third shift. I was horribly hungover; my head was spinning, I was constantly vomiting. The last thing I wanted to do was call off work, but as the time to take my shower and leave approached I didn’t seem to be getting any better, and my frustration with myself grew to a fever pitch.

There was a moment at the end of work on Wednesday when I found myself in the third-person witnessing perspective, observing my thought processes as, while I mopped the dining room, I attempted to justify buying beer on the way home. It was as if I was watching some automatic program playing itself over in my head, which disturbed me. I then found myself following through with it — much like how I suddenly found myself leaving my car behind in the dream to go back inside the house.

Prick (12/2/17 Dream).

In the dream I recalled sometime after waking up on Saturday (12/2/17), I was moving through a tightly packed group of people. As I strolled closely passed this one guy, I thought I felt a prick, as if he had jabbed me with a needle. When I took a good look at him — the wild, buggy-eyed man in front of me in a trench coat — and saw the needle he held in his hand towards me, however, I tried convincing myself that he had not yet stabbed me. The thought that he had done so was far too terrifying. As I watched, he kept trying to do it again, without the slightest change, making stabbing motions towards me with the needle as if it was his singular function, like he was some robot programmed to commit this action over and over in a closed loop.

Aura of the Earth.

Sense it? That creeping
suspicion? Look now
at your hand.

Awaken within the dream. 

Now fly up
through the ceiling
if you have to, engage in foreplay 
with the sky,

flirting with the clouds
breaking up the blue. Peirce
the atmosphere, escape
the aura of the earth.

Look back,
feel as you did
well over a decade
ago. Swim

in, race and weave 
through this beautiful,
black sea
just as you did as a child. 

Reclaim
this freedom — 
and this time, master
ways to integrate.

Of Lucid Dreams and Astral Projections.

Around April of 1995, I began having experiences that I initially could not stretch my mind to fathom — quite an accomplishment for that period, too, as my life had become replete with other flavors of weirdness. Though I had achieved these experiences through effort and experiment, my intention had been to induce an out-of-body experience (OOBE or OBE) in which I could exit my corporeal form by means of the coexisting subtle body, a nonphysical vehicle through which it was said I could explore the physical universe without ever leaving the comfort of the bedroom. I listened to a tape that claimed to teach me this ability, with one side blatantly offering instructions on how to do so while the other offered those same instructions, only subliminally, over the liminal sound of waves crashing upon a beach.

The result was not what I expected. Rather than waking up outside of my body, I awoke in a seemingly endless series of alternate versions of my bedroom: nested false awakenings, I later learned them to be called. And when I ceased listening to the tape I began having what at least experientially constituted OBEs, only I found myself not disembodied in the familiar, physical landscape but alternate versions of familiar physical environments. It seemed to be a different reality entirely, and I later discovered it fit the descriptions many attributed to what they called the astral plane, which essentially fits the description of what others refer to as a parallel universe.

As I came to understand it shortly after these experiences began, the astral plane was the name some people gave to a supposed parallel universe that both echoes and extends beyond the physical universe with which we are familiar. It contains alternate versions or different renditions of familiar, physical environments as well as realms that are unique to that reality. In this place intention was the vehicle; while you could navigate in the environment much as you do in the corporeal form, you could also focus on an aspect of the environment, or even focus on a distant environment, and you would immediately be catapulted there. The objects on this plane were also described as being self-luminous, requiring no external light source. All of this seemed to describe my experiences, most of all those initial experiences, damn near perfectly.

Later I came to suspect that they might instead be what are known as lucid dreams (and more rarely, waking dreams), which are dreams in which the dreamer becomes awake within the dream environment, though there are at least three reasons why lucid dreams did not seem to be a suitable explanation.

First is the fact that during my “astral projections” experiential time often seemed compressed. In his lectures, Stephen LaBerge speaks of the well-known sleep studies, where the rapid eye movements (REM) of subjects were monitored in their sleep. He cites a case in which one subject was recorded to have very regular left-right eye movements in their sleep, and upon being awakened and asked what they had been dreaming about, they reported that they had been watching a ping-pong ball go back and forth across a table. Evidently, at least in some cases, the REM of a sleeping subject was not random but rather followed the movements being made by the subject within the dream. From this LaBerge got the ingenious idea to have subjects consciously commit a series of agreed-upon eye movements when they successfully entered into a lucid dream state during these studies. As a result of this, lucid dreaming was suddenly scientifically respectable; they could also determine at what stage of sleep lucid dreaming occurs. What this also suggests to me is that dream-time, at least when one is lucid, is perfectly aligned with real-time, which puts the lucid dreaming experience at odds with my “astral projections.” An experience in the other realm can last a seeming hour and I awaken to find perhaps fifteen minutes had passed — which shouldn’t even be long enough for me to fall asleep, let alone achieve my first REM cycle.

Second is the fact that in nearly all the cases I’ve read about the issue with lucid dreaming is staying within the dream, whereas my issue has always been waking myself up and out of it. This was particularly true during my initial experiences, though the issue may have continued unabated and the only difference now is that I have come to enjoy the experience and don’t seek to exit as soon as I can. In those initial experiences, however, I was frantically trying to wake up, but the best I could do was exit the otherworldly landscape and enter my paralyzed, corporeal body or a dark, endless void before falling back into another strange environment.

Both of these qualities don’t necessarily disqualify lucid dreaming as an explanation, though it seems as though other factors may be present. It could mean, for instance, that these experiences of mine may be generated by some dissociative disorder or seizure that left my mind awake as it thrust my body into a state of sleep paralysis and total sensory deprivation, inspiring my mind to compensate for the sensory lack with spontaneous, unconsciously-generated material of its own. Maybe the rapidity of my mental processes during these episodes (which might make more sense if it was indeed a seizure of some sort) squeezes a large amount of dream-time experience into a comparatively small amount of real-time. My inability to wake up from this sort of special-case lucid dream could be due to the fact that the seizure or dissociative episode had yet to run its course.

A third though entirely subjective and so less convincing reason I felt resistant to the notion that these experiences may merely be lucid dreams were their astounding sense of hyperreality. Though I ultimately came to explain the experience as constituting a “different kind of real,” I originally and perhaps more honestly described it as hyperreal, as more real than the reality I experienced in my mundane, waking existence. Not only was the environment far more vivid than waking experience, but I felt far more awake, alive or aware in these circumstances than I did during so-called waking life. It continues to be difficult to articulate the distinction, but it remains nonetheless. This other world clearly operated in accordance with a distinct set of laws that distinguished it from mundane existence, but the quality of perception and awareness were heightened. This became a dilemma for me. Was I to judge the mundane world as real and the other world as fantasy or dream simply due to the difference in their guiding laws despite the fact that things seemed more real and I felt more aware in the other world? This perspective seemed flawed, which is perhaps why I came to settle on that other world as being merely a different kind of reality than the mundane one.

A former objection of mine that arose when considering whether these were lucid dreams used to be that I was unable to control the environment, merely my position within the dream (much as in waking life). During my first or second experience, during a break period in my fighting and fleeing from the entity that would go on to plague me during these episodes for years, I wondered if I was in a lucid dream and attempted to test the idea by willing something into manifestation. Though with considerable effort I was capable of manifesting a mute, translucent, animated image of a barking dog, it only held as long as my concentration could and I was never able of even getting that far ever again. I have since learned that there are various levels of lucidity and one is not always granted absolute power once one awakens; despite this, I find it suspicious that despite my painful awareness during those initial experiences and my deliberate attempt, this was as far as I was able to get.

Another former objection was that while I am wide awake during these experiences, at least for a time, I wasn’t necessarily certain that I was dreaming, just that I wasn’t awake in the mundane reality, and the act of being awake within a dream while knowing that you are dreaming is, well, the working definition of lucid dreaming. I have since accepted that this just might be a semantic argument, however.

I suppose the real question becomes how one could ever hope to distinguish whether an experience is taking place on the astral plane or in a lucid dream. The only difference in definition seems to be that the astral plane is considered a parallel universe, an objective reality much like our physical world, which is to say a neighboring space composed of a different set of dimensions, and the lucid dream is merely a mind-generated environment. One could add that an additional distinguishing feature is that the astral plane is a single universe accessible to all of us in just the same way the physical universe is, and so it should be possible for two people to independently travel there, share experiences, come back to their physical bodies, document their experiences and then confirm them to one another, thereby providing evidence that such a plane actually exists. This ignores stories where people claim to share the same dream, presumably telepathically, and sometimes in tandem with one or both of them being lucid within the mutual dream in question.

One might also add the argument that the astral plane depends upon dualism in the philosophy of the mind, on the notion that our physical bodies are but one of perhaps numerous transient vessels for our consciousness, and that the living and deceased can mingle on this plane, but this would be ignoring cases of visitation dreams, when the living has a dream of the deceased which provides information that seems to validate it was actually a mutual dream between the living and dead. It would also require ignoring what Dr. Ian Stevenson, in his research into reincarnation, called departure dreams, where the recently deceased visit the living to inform them where they will be incarnating next, and arrival dreams, where the deceased visit the living members of the family into which they will be subsequently incarnating. If the living can share dreams with one another and death is truly not the end of consciousness but merely a period of transition, it is not a leap to assume that the dead and disembodied can dream, and even share dreams as well.

It seems frustratingly unsatisfactory to conclude that there are no potential means of distinguishing between astral projections and lucid dreams, that it is all a matter of interpretation, but this seems to be the case — at least to my eyes, at least so far.

Altered States in ‘08.

I. Body.
4/11/08

It’s April eleventh, and I’m on the toilet taking a dump and reading Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle when I notice that I’m getting incredibly tired all of a sudden. I wanted to type out the rest of my notebook writings this week, the shit I’ve been writing about everything, and the bit of shit from last week I never got the chance to type out, but the coffee is simply not kicking in for some reason. As I’m reading, I’m finding my eyes are closing and I’m getting that falling feeling, like I’m falling or wobbling out of my skin. I’m not just tired, no, I’m inexplicably exhausted, ready to zonk out, so I just finish my chapter and climb into bed. And, poof, I’m out like a light.

Sometime later, I wake up, immobilized. I can’t see anything, all is just a black, formless void, and I can only hear and feel things faintly, but it’s clear I’m being moved. It feels like I’m being pulled across some fabric of some kind, like polyester, and I can hear that high-pitched screeching as my body’s pulled across the fabric or whatever it is. I feel so numb and passive, though, so fucking relaxed that struggling to open my eyes and see what the fuck is really going on never even crosses my mind. In retrospect, that bothers me, and it bothers me even more that it only bothers me in retrospect and didn’t bother me at the time.

When I wake up, things aren’t right, and I immediately know this is the case. I’m awake, but I’m not in my body, not really, not in the physical sense. I still can’t say if this kind of experience is a dream or some parallel reality or another plane of existence, but the fact of the matter is that I’m wide awake in this place and it’s not our traditional waking world. Perhaps this is just a lucid dream. Regardless, I wake to find myself in some version of the room I used to live in when I was at my parent’s house. It’s dark and there’s a bed, a sofa chair, but the room seems tinier than my room was when I lived with my parents and far more cluttered. I get up, fully aware that this isn’t real, or at least what we traditionally regard as real, and I look around the room.

I stand up and look in the mirror, which I have developed a certain fondness for doing when this sort of thing happens, this astral projection or whatever this is. My reflected image seems distorted in places, and I don’t know if it’s due to smudges on the mirror or it’s just my vision, but overall, I certainly look like me. Getting real close to the glass, I start searching for the scratch on my nose that I know I just got at work last night, but I cannot find it, and I’m curious and amused. The longer and closer I look the more I notice that my eyes look a hell of a lot shinier, a lot darker, and the glare off of them is so great I can hardly see my pupils or iris. I reach for my cigarettes because I really want to smoke one, and I put one in my mouth, holding off on lighting it. I’m thinking about going out the door of my room, maybe roaming around, checking the place out, maybe going downstairs, but I’m still drawn back to the mirror, finding myself transfixed on the reflection of my own image. Suddenly, it looks as if my chest isn’t my chest anymore, but my back. It looks like my head’s on backward. And then I wake up.

I don’t remember anything exactly after waking up, but I remember walking down my parent’s stairs, and my mother is talking to someone, some guy I know, who has just come in from outside. It suddenly comes to my attention that mom was somehow observing throughout the whole parallel reality or dream experience I just had. That was my inexplicable and sudden assumption at first, anyway. When I hear her talk to the other guy, it seems that he observed it all, too, and they were quite interested in it all. She started describing the dream, and the guy’s agreeing with her, with every word she uses to describe it. She starts talking about some riverbank, though, and he nods, and that’s when I shake my head at both of them. “No,” I say to them, “mine was different,” because I remembered, of course, no riverbank.

Just then I look out the door the guy had just come in from, which looks no different from my parent’s door in reality, and I see a face, a body on the ground outside the door, just on the edge of what appears to be a river beyond the door. I feel an instant sense of alarm, yelling, “BODY,” as I run down the remaining steps and cross the dining room and run out the door.

When I get outside, however, there is no river’s edge – no riverbank, that is. Just a lush, green lawn, but the body is still there. It’s a young, blond-haired body, eyes closed, just lying there with his legs together, arms at his sides, comfortable and not looking dead at all. Just lying motionless in the sun upon the lush green grass of what seems to be a beautiful summer day. I’m not good at judging age, but he’s maybe nine or ten years old, I’d say, if forced to guess. I just look at him, curious and confused.

And then I wake up again, but I’m inside my head, trying to find a way out, trying to wake up in the right place this time, and suddenly I wake up in my bed. I run to my computer desk and try to write it all down, try to remember as much as I can because I feel this is incredibly important. My eyes, as I write, they’re all out of focus; it’s as if I can only clearly see out of one, and the other’s all fucked up. My teeth feel as if they’ve been clenching. Am I having seizures during these experiences? I’m not sure. I can’t be sure about anything.

I look at the clock, and it reads 10:34 in the morning. It was ten-something when I went to bed, which means the whole experience, it shouldn’t have taken longer than half an hour, and probably considerably less. My experience seems like it might have fit into those time constraints if it was exactly ten when I went to bed, but I would have had to have started “dreaming” or whatever as soon as my head hit the pillow. That seems incredibly unlikely.

And I think about the kid in the dream, and my mind goes back to the kid I saw on December 15, 2001, and the weird experiences that followed that encounter, and how that child I saw way back when seemed to be maybe four, and how the kid I just saw in the dream or whatever, he seemed to be maybe ten, and I just shake my head, because that doesn’t help this make sense.

II. Altogether Numb With Psychospiritual Novocain.
6/1/08

It’s the Wednesday before last. It’s raining outside, and I spent the drive home trying to relax, doing my little mental ritual that makes me feel more protected and secure, all the while hoping to high hell I won’t go tires-on-a-Slip-N’-Slide and hydroplane. And that my spare won’t go flat. That a deer won’t run out in front of me. That I won’t veer into oncoming traffic. I try to make the relaxation come on more easily by putting on some pleasantly distracting music, but the only songs playing on the radio bring back angry, frightening and depressing memories, most of them from high school, slightly before or shortly thereafter. I finally settle on listening to Guns N’ Roses November Rain, which is a peculiar choice, considering the song’s themes. You know. Rainy weather, death.

Having survived the trip home, I pull into what has become my usual parking space in the lot outside my apartment. I open the door, smell the exhaust from my car, put out my cigarette in the ashtray overloaded with tangled butts and clumps of soot. Outside, the rain beats down on me. I’m leaning in the open door, reaching in for my book bag, when something weird happens.

My consciousness suddenly shifts. Like a head rush, but more than a head rush. More breadth and width than a head rush. Just for a brief second, just for a blink, it’s suddenly as if I’m looking, feeling, hearing, smelling it all from outside myself, behind myself, above myself but through myself. It’s not just the perspective that’s changed, either, but my sense of self. It’s as if my everyday ego is just some costume I put on, some role I play, and this is a deeper aspect of me waking up after a snooze and just peeking through the curtain. And this hiding, now-peeking-out me seems so much more awake and alive. I feel like I am somebody I am, but I’m not the me I fooled myself into believing I was.

I look around and realize that I’m leaning inside a vehicle, reaching for a book bag. That I have a job and go to college and live alone and have somehow managed to survive enough to get here. And I am awash with perplexity and disbelief. I realize a lot must have transpired in order to get here and I am skeptical with respect to the notion that I really am. This can’t really be the case, can it? How did I get here? How did I make it this far? This is inconceivable, considering where I was last time I peeked out from behind the curtain. It’s exciting, I notice — the freedom I have — but the world is also frightening. I find it amazing that this world even exists, really. That the circumstances are the way they are.

It’s as if I’ve just really woken up out of this dream-like zombie state I’d been in since who knew when. And everything I — the me I think I am — takes for granted, it’s all so unbelievable.

This sudden shift in consciousness lasts a second, as I said, a mere second, and I shift back. I go on about my usual routine like it never happened, but inside my apartment, I’m contemplating. It’s so weird how we live the majority of our lives thinking we’re awake when in a moment we realize just how asleep we’ve really been. We’re altogether numb with psychospiritual Novocain, really.

III. The Blurs Strike Again.
6/16/08

It was Sunday, somewhere between four-thirty and five-thirty in the evening, I was at work, and I had just come back inside after having taken out the trash. It didn’t hit me until I looked at the face of Pops Girl in the drive-thru that something was wrong. Although I was looking dead at her I couldn’t see her entire face. I looked at Gus, at others, and it was the same thing. Looking at her eyes, I couldn’t see the bottom half of their faces; their mouths, their chin, were just gone from my field of vision. It affected part of the side of their face, too; focusing on one eye, I couldn’t see the other. I tried to act natural. Tried to keep calm. As I walked passed people, I noticed that in the upper-to-middle right-hand corner of my field of vision there was this purple blob, kind of like the blob you get when you stare at a light for a really long time, only this was remaining stationary, pulsating. And it didn’t remain a purple blob for long, either; soon it became what I’ve come to call a ”distortion worm.” In the same place in the upper-to-middle right-hand corner of my field of vision, it was this wavy line that looked a lot like a slithering snake, only it was stationary and pulsating, and though it was transparent, it distorted everything it obstructed and began to shimmer in these sparkling rainbow colors.

Maybe I should just shut up about it this time, I told myself. If I ignore it, the blurs will probably eventually go away, and trying to explain this to people who don’t understand and won’t give so much as half a shit won’t do me any good anyway. I went in the back, though, to start cleaning the top of the shake machine when Moe, over by the fryers, asks me if I’m okay, and I had to confess I didn’t know. I tried to explain to him what was happening, how it starts with the purple blob, transforms into a distortion worm and then it slowly grows across the center of my line of sight until I have nothing but the most minute amount of peripheral vision to go on. Two other guys in the kitchen, Louie and Ronnie, take interest in what I’m saying. Louie steps in and offers that it might be something in my eye, maybe a hair, or maybe a cataract or perhaps my eyesight has been going bad, but I shake my head, tell him I don’t see how any of the above could be true. For one thing, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me. It happened first on September 30, 2002, and it happened on three more occasions after that. But it hasn’t happened to me in five years. Not since my last day at the first store I worked at, as a matter of fact. So it just doesn’t seem like this would be a cataract or my eyesight going bad. And the idea of something being stuck in my eye seems just as unlikely. It’s not my eye, it’s my field of vision — I can cover either eye and it’s still happening. It’s happening in my head, in my brain; the problem can’t be located in my eyes.

Back when this had begun happening the first time, it was shortly after I had met Angela Briss. Eventually, she and I would sit down over some coffee and she’d tell me some interesting, weird things that had occurred to her over the course of her life rather consistently — shit that sounded quite familiar. Among her experience was something she called “the blurs,” which was, it seemed, exactly what had been happening to me.

The last time I had an attack of the blurs was, as I said, my last day at the first McDonalds I worked at, which also happened to be the last day I had ever seen her. Just a few days ago, I finally found Angela online and tried to contact her, though I hadn’t heard back from her. I don’t see how that could be anything more than coincidence, but I think it’s worth noting. Another thing worth noting is that when I described this particular experience to my parents sometime later, it turns out my ”blur attacks” sounded exactly like what my mother saw during the extremely serious migraines she used to have when I was really young. The distortion worm would start at one end of her field of vision and slowly work its way across her field of vision, sparkling and pulsating until it reached the other side, at which time her migraine would just be over. The difference in my case is that the blurs don’t always go that far, but sometimes they go farther — either way, a headache never accompanies them, though I do feel a “pressure” in my head and my state of consciousness is drastically warped.

It’s also true that I’ve been freaking out a lot lately, however, and that I hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before. Aside from that, I’d been contemplating whether the ailments I’ve been suffering as of late might have been of a psychosomatic nature. One issue was the sharp ache in my right foot, which made it extremely painful to walk on — incredibly for one day, and then increasingly less for two to three days afterward. Then, after that had dissipated, I felt this lump in my ear and one morning I awoke with the entire side of my face throbbing with this profound ache that subsided in a day or two. Perhaps these ailments, as well as the blurs, were all psychosomatic reactions to stress, which for various reasons have been high lately. For one thing, they all occurred on the right side of my body. For another, I’m almost sure the blurs have to be psychosomatic because when I can manage to relax they suddenly subside.

As I was cleaning the shake machine, the blurs got a bit worse, with the distortion worm crawling a little further across my field of vision and another blob forming on the lower half of the right side of my visual field, pulsating. My vision got all surreal as if everything was in a sort of haze and at a distance, but it slowly seemed to calm, and after I went out for a cigarette it seemed to subside entirely.

Voluntary Amnesia (6/28/08 Dream).

Walking alone in what appears to be the front yard of my parent’s house, it is a dark, clear, warm summer’s night. I’m watching something in the sky that at first looks like a plane in the distance but suddenly it quickly accelerates forward, and in the end what I’m looking at is a saucer-shaped object with lights all over it in neon-like colors. I don’t know how high up it is, but it looks bigger than the moon would appear and it’s dancing, doing acrobatics in the sky above me. Soon another joins it, virtually identical in appearance to the first, and then another. It is absolutely amazing to watch them.

Though in retrospect my instinct should have been to run and take cover, instead I find myself laying down, putting my back upon the grass of the front lawn. As I do so, the magnificent, surreal light show above me continues, but I realize something is even more awry now. There’s a strange mixture of excitement and fear present in me, and I know something in particular is coming. From the especially dark area of the yard towards which the top of my head is pointing there comes something. A form. It approaches me, bends down and looks at my face, but as soon as it does so I close my eyes.

Suddenly, with my eyes closed, with my consciousness altering and drifting in and out a bit, I feel myself being lifted and moved around, and when I open my eyes again I seem to be in a pretty bright place. From the table on which I lay I can clearly see them walking around, surrounding me. Some are familiar. The little gray guys. But they don’t all look the same. Some are of types I never remember having seen before, not in personal experiences and not in my research into the experiences of others. I remember how the head of one of them struck me as unusual and interesting and that I hoped that I would be able to remember this whole incident well enough to be able to draw it later on. This led me to playing over in my head what happened from the point of seeing the objects in the yard until now over and over, trying to remember the sequence, burn every detail of it in my memory so that I could write about it later.

Like so many times before, I hoped they wouldn’t wipe my conscious mind entirely clean. I wanted to remember how real this was in order to abolish the skepticism that always followed an experience, the doubt that always ached in me about my sanity after they dropped me off. There was a moment there on the table when I thought that perhaps I should just ask them, beg them to let me remember the fact that this happens from now on, to just do away with the amnesia because I can’t stop them and I think I can handle the memories. Maybe I could just accept what’s going on and somehow learn to integrate it into my life because, really, for the most part, its the mystery, the inability to know whether this is insane or really happening, that drives me over the edge. If I knew for sure, maybe I could deal.

But then I began to recall the kinds of things thoat went on when they took me, the kinds of things that were in store for me pretty soon, as I waited there on the table, and I thought how maybe it would benefit me not to remember. That perhaps if they took my suggestion and let me remember it might just cause more pain, more fear, and may perhaps even destroy me and my life completely. And after that point, I have no recollection of what else happened in the dream, but I feel certain more happened.