Existential Differential Diagnosis Procedure.

My pathway 
towards truth is evidently
one determined
by a snail-paced process
of elimination:

I know what’s wrong,
though I’m not
nearly as confident
in what’s right —

yet with confidence
ever-growing
as I

continue experimenting,
falsifying, striving
for verification 
in the narrowing

realm
of probability
as possibilities
continue
to fall away.

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Into the WILD.

While laying supine on my bed, I listened to the Astral Dreams app on my iPhone as I focused my attention on my breath. White noise layered with tones and what I presume to be subliminal suggestions rushed into my ears through my ear buds. My intent here was to deliberately achieve the state I often find myself in naturally during meditation, hypnosis, or just on the bridge of sleep: a state of sleep paralysis in which hypnagogic imagery begins manifesting in my mind. It turns out that this is the first part of what is known as the Wake-Induced Lucid Dreaming (WILD) technique; all I need to do is try and “step into” the imagery and I can enter into a lucid dream without any breach in the continuity of consciousness.

Once the paralysis began, I felt one of my fingers move involuntarily to touch another — though neither were my actual, physical fingers. I wish there was something less hokey to call it, but calling it an aura or subtle body in and around my physical form is the only language presently available to me. It’s like a full-body form of the phantom limb effect, I guess, though in this case I feel it despite having a body complete with all the typical limbs. And I always feel it — it’s just that states like this make me more sensitive to the sensations.

As the hypnagogic imagery began popping up before my minds eye in a rapid slideshow, I maintained a witnessing perspective, and once the imagery calmed down a bit I began slowly attempting to “step into” the imagery, at which point the images began to gain a sense of dimension. As before, as always, the images appeared as if I were gazing at them through an amber-brown tinted window. Entering into the images was much like entering the mouth of a cave as the closer I got the more the scene seemed to be above and around me until the mouth was finally at my back and I felt as if I was actually inside the image.

I maintained awareness as I entered into an image, a scene in which I was staring at the treetops and the sky, and the scene bursts with color and life. A convincingly real, ideal summer day. I got so excited that it ended as quickly as it began. It was like swiftly stepping out of the mouth of the cave backwards and back behind the amber-brown tinted window of the mind.

Damn it. I was so close.

The Hunting Party.

8/23/08

The four of us had taken our leisurely positions just outside the Main Street Grille and Brewery, my flashlight serving as the makeshift doorstop for the front door. I sat on the steps of the wooden porch, breathing cigarette smoke as I flipped through the random pictures I had taken on the digital camera Mitch had lent me. Eyes hungry to see a translucent orb, a white mist, a mysterious figure. Looking for something, anything, but trying to keep my emotions in balance.

If I suspended expectation, I reminded myself, I couldn’t be let down. It was best to approach with a controlled curiosity, a cautious hope, and I knew that. It was the same reason I was not at all disappointed with how the evening had gone so far, that we hadn’t seen a full-body apparition or a physical object moved, untouched. I was glad Mitch seemed to echo this unspoken sentiment of mine, too. He had gone even further, really, at least verbally proclaiming as much, telling the owner of the place before we had began our ”ghost hunting” that evening that he prefers to go into these situations with the attitude that there’s nothing to it. With an effort of debunking it all as a natural phenomenon, so he can rule out all the knowns, dodge false positives. Still, I felt that he was more than slightly disappointed with the way the night had gone so far, and it was a vibe I caught from him even before we stepped outside the old mill-turned-brewery-and-grille.

Before we had come on the porch, each of our two-man teams had simultaneously been prowling the three levels of the place — or four, if you’re counting that creepy-looking crawl space. There were six of us in all. The first team was Mitch’s brother-in-law and some young-looking guy who’s name I never caught. Mitch’s brother-in-law seemed like a cool guy, fully capable of taking Mitch’s ”So, I’m fucking your sister” comments. On the drive there they talked over the hand-held walkie talkies, seeming more like blood brothers who had grown up with one another than brothers merely through marriage.

As for his partner, the young guy, he was clean-cut, healthy-looking, reasonably-strong, not too skinny and not too fat. Nice, evenly-trimmed hair. The kind of guy that a guy like me holds a secret hate for, but only because he probably has a hot girlfriend he’s banging every night. Throughout the evening, at least from the standpoint of my limited contact with him, he seemed almost two-dimensional, nearly invisible to the eye. A stand in. Like one of the red shirted guys off of Star Trek; the ones that always go down to the planet with the main characters and since you’ve never seen the guy before you know you’ll never see him again. He’s never coming back. That he’s good as gone. No doubt, if this had been a horror flick or a supernatural thriller he would have been the first one to get eaten by the monster, infected with the alien virus, killed by the psychopath. I wish him no ill-will, of course; he seemed rather polite and level-headed. I just couldn’t escape that outlook on him in this context. Needless to say, he survived. Hope I didn’t ruin it for you.

The third two-man team was an odd and interesting pairing. One of the guys was a plump, pasty, baby-faced fellow, looking a bit like a more serious version of the Pillsbury Doughboy clad in street cloths. By behavior alone, you might have considered him the Egon Spengler of the group, only rather than clutching the mythical PK Meter he held the super-expensive thermal camera he had borrowed from the Fire Department where he was employed. Him and I said little to each other, but he seemed to be a nice enough guy. Lurking in the midst of the general populace he might have seemed rather reserved, but him, and almost anyone short of a chronically shy mute, looked downright extroverted next to me. Out of all of us, though, he seemed to be the most wary, the most skeptical, not willing to lean either way regardless. When you got down to it, he was a bit curious, but just a pace away from indifference. That’s what I got from him, anyway. I did find it strange and more than slightly ironic that Mitch teamed him up with the guy I will call Twitch.

Twitch was a friendly though rather wild-eyed guy who had what seemed to me to have a rather child-like naivette. He seemed to go into all this with uncritical certitude; convinced there was something to it. His certainty developed at least in part, I’m sure, due to his disposition coupled with two experiences of his — one took place here in the mill, the other in the nearby Historical Society building. Before becoming a police officer, he had worked in the mill. There had been a break-in one night or some ordeal that made it necessary for him to spent the night in the place alone. Though he freely confessed to having seen nothing, he was adamant about the weird noises he had heard all night long.

”Like this,” he said, turning around and pointing to the floorboards beneath our feet, which creaked and squeaked as we made our way. He told us this shortly before opening the door to the basement, where a light bulb in the stairwell went out before his eyes. I didn’t see it burn out just then myself, however, only that it was burnt out. ”Someone doesn’t want us here,” he said less than half-jokingly, laughing nervously under his breath and we proceeded down.

The other experience of his occurred after he had become a police officer, when he had gone to inspect the Historical Society building one night when an alarm, a motion detector, was tripped on the second floor. “Not the first floor,'”he would say on both occasions he told the swift story that evening, ‘”the second floor.” His penchant for the dramatic was pretty evident, I think; he spoke of things the way you would when telling a ghost story around the campfire to children.

As the four of us were outside, a cop car drove around, said something none of us could hear, and then drove around again, parking beside the building. Two of the group, both Mitch and Twitch, were police officers themselves, so the feeling of paranoia that seems to be a programmed response to officers of the law didn’t hit too hard. Two cops emerged from the car, one which Mitch seemed to know well and who’s name rung a bell; I’m almost sure he’s mentioned him to me a few times. This was Lane, who looked a bit like a buff version of Riker off of Star Trek (and no, I’m not a fucking Trekkie).

With him was some incredibly young-looking officer who made the whole, ”There’s a rational explanation for everything,” remark after discussion arose regarding apparently paranormal experiences. I assumed the kid was some rookie Lane was meant to wean in; though he didn’t seem inexperienced, he did give off that aura of feeling awkward, feeling like he didn’t entirely belong. He buried it in his trying-to-be-a-badass posture, which was almost convincing, but still had that faint air of the contrived. That kind of alpha male body language seemed more authentic in Lane and Mitch. But fake it till you make it, I guess.

As for Lane, he carried a portable coffee mug and, though a smoker, wasn’t nearly the chimney I was. He smoked maybe one or two for the hour I saw him, whereas I sucked down maybe three or four. He had that deep, controlled voice that made me think he would make a good speaker. I couldn’t imagine him stuttering, slurring, or pausing and reversing to rephrase. He was calm and comfortable with himself. Out of the two of them, Lane was the only one to shake my hand and look me dead in the eye. Granted, Mitch had introduced him and I and had not done so with the kid, so I suppose that could be the reason. Still, it seemed as though Lane would’ve shaken my hand given the chance anyway. He was a peculiar fellow; there was something about the guy I just immediately liked, I must admit. He displayed that perfect balance of the humble and confident; he never seemed arrogant, nor did he seem willing to make himself look smaller than he was. His mind wasn’t closed, but it wasn’t so damned open all his brains fell out and splattered on the concrete sidewalk beneath his feet, either.

When Twitch told his story to Lane — “Not the first floor; the second floor,” — which was his second telling, Lane gave him a mildly dismissive but nonetheless sympathetic shrug. He explained how depending on the settings, such motion detectors could pick up mice, even a calm breath of wind vibrating a spiderweb. In other words, while there could be something to it, an alarm being tripped on the second floor and not the first didn’t necessarily constitute something unusual. Without boasting or trying to one-up him, Lane’s experience, by comparison, held quite a bit more water. He had gotten a call at the same damned place. The front door had this old lock — he gave a good description of it, gave its name, but I can’t recall it exactly. Suffice it to say you had to turn the lock quite a bit; in other words, it had to be very purposeful. There was no accidentally locking this door. And while he would lock and unlock doors as he went from room to room, he didn’t bother with the front door lock. Regardless, when he returned, having found no prowler, he found it locked. That was pretty hard to explain away.

Even more difficult to explain away was Mitch’s experience inside the Historical building, which initially stirred his interest. Of all of them, at least by virtue of the stories I’d heard from them, Mitch had perhaps the most qualification to believe — and yet at the same time he was the strictest and most resistant to accept something unusual. He was cautious. It was at his direction that we were now taking half-hour shifts during which four of us would stay outside while the two others had full and free reign inside the place.

Mitch was right, of course; going in shifts like this would decrease the potentiality of false indications of a ghostly presence. The creaking floorboards as the six of us crept around the three levels were a bit difficult to separate from any truly potential unknown. It was hard enough with the whirring of the machines, the sound of them clicking on and off, and even the sound of the rushing water in the back of the place. As Mitch and I had sat in the dining room earlier, we watched moving lights and shadows as cars passed by on the street outside and he noted, after he put some thought into it, how such effects could produce illusions.

Another issue crept up, and came to my attention for the first time, when Mitch and I were interrupted during our first round on the ground level of the place by Twitch and Egon, who wanted Mitch to check out something in the basement. We followed them down and we all paused at the bottom of the steps.

“Do you feel that?” Twitch asked hauntingly. There was agreement all around, and I had to admit a creepy feeling. “Somethings here,” Twitch went on.

Before we started, before Twitch had even guided us on our tour, the boss hovered around the group a bit. He had a mustache and seemed to have that way of carrying himself that existed somewhere in the realm between the laid back and the strict, professional type. Before he went home for the night he told us of his own personal experience. He had been alone, walking down the steps to the basement when he felt an unmistakable presence. As he continued walking, he tried to shake it off, to no avail. Eventually it came on so strong he was stricken with terror. He felt sure something was there and bolted up the steps, feeling as though something unseen was chasing him.

So now, as we all seemed to feel something comparable, we spread out a bit and looked around. Taking pictures, asking questions with our microcassette recorder in hand. That’s when Mitch brought up the issue, which was the issue of electromagnetism. More than once downstairs I’d heard Mitch or Egon say something akin to, “Damn, I wish we had an EMF Detector.” Someone else raised the question; had the case been otherwise, I would have inevitably asked about it. I knew they were talking about an electromagnetic field detector, but I was lost otherwise.

According to Mitch, the presence of electromagnetism can have an odd effect on the human nervous system, resulting in sensations we might, for the sake of argument, wrap up under the umbrella term “the creeps.” Down in the basement, he pointed to the wires hanging down from the ceiling, implying that there might be more conventional factors to blame for the sense of an unknown presence that we all more or less shared.

As far as I can determine, the four of us all felt that feeling at the base of the steps, but when Mitch and I journeyed down there the second time alone I, in the least, no longer felt it in that location. Even the first time, while we were all down there, for awhile something seemed off in the environment and then it just, well, went away. Now, this could mean that a disembodied entity had been hanging around at first and then meandered about elsewhere, but it could also mean that nearby wires or machines that had initially been on had later clicked off, thereby eliminating the eerie atmosphere. I also wasn’t blind to the fact that the expectation of sensing something (provided in part by ever-dramatic Twitch) could have alone produced the initial effect and when the expectation died, so did the creepy sensation.

If it had something to do with electromagnetism, however, I still wasn’t sure how the detector would help us determine it one way or the other. I mean, it could tell us there were EM fields present, but not necessarily their source. So I looked a bit online after the hunting party and found that there are some EMF detectors available that screen out man-made sources of electromagnetism, thereby allowing paranormal investigators the ability to determine whether or not “the creeps” are a true unknown. Damned if I know how the thing can tell the difference, but that’s how its advertised.

Still, we all certainly shared the hope of finding something suggesting the unusual, the unconventional. Mitch and I let the tiny microcassette recorder run, with us, mostly him, asking questions to any hypothetical spirits that might be wandering about as we ourselves meandered from room to room. How old are you? What’s your name? Do you know you’re dead? How did you die? Why do you like this place? Does it bother you we’re here?

And really, out of all of them the only question that made me wince was, Do you know that you’re dead? It might be goofy, but I thought if someone was wandering about here, long since departed, there were two likely responses to that question. One, they did know they were dead and would be angry at the needless reminder as well as at the suggestion that they lacked sufficient awareness to grasp a hold of that fact. They would interpret the question as the act of us talking down to them, in other words. The other possibility is that they didn’t know, or that they were at least in denial of the fact they were dead. In that case I felt this question would either frighten or enrage them, perhaps both in one, foul swoop. Either possibility, I felt certain, wouldn’t make them any more inclined to communicate with us.

Regardless, I must confess that I did feel presences, though I wouldn’t be so bold as to proclaim there was anything more to this than my overactive imagination. On both occasions that Mitch and I visited the kitchen I felt certain something was there. I also felt this in the basement, though only on the first time Mitch and I went down there when the team in the basement wanted Mitch to check out something. Three times between both places I somehow felt we might get a substantial EVP on the recorder. I suppose that time, and Mitch’s initial review of the evidence, will tell.

Lucidity.

Try and slice
into and through this haze,
pierce and flay
the facade’s skin

with your serrated reason,
more precise
and catastrophic.

Stitch it back up
via lucidity:
through your dreams
with the thread and needle

of your sterilized
rationality despite the raw
rage of the animal
in which you are contained,
online with, engaged:

your chronic tendency:
intimacy
despite the distance.

Rumination Station Playlist.

Meditation has brought me to realize, yet again, the rampant, automatic nature of my monkey-mind; that my mental radio is locked on the rumination station. I have been paying extra attention this time, deliberately trying to increase those periods of self-awareness in which I adopt what, in the wonderful world of writing, is referred to as the third person perspective, and what in meditation specifically is referred to as observing, witnessing or witness consciousness. I have come to do this not only for the 21 minutes I sit following the breath every night but frequently during the workday as well, all in the attempts to identify and categorize the shit arising in my mental space.

I also came upon some notes recently which I made during my previous period of mindfulness meditation in which I noted some mental patterns that have thus far escaped my awareness this time around.

Let’s begin with my Radiohead Syndrome, which is to say the presence of this ongoing and frequently disappointing soundtrack to my life. Two or three weeks ago, I listed at least a short list of the songs that echoed in my head during a two-day period. On Sunday, I noted that I at first replayed Sleep Apnea by Chevelle, from their SciFi Crimes album, then the Twelve Days of Christmas, and finally Go With the Flow, by Queens of the Stone Age. The next day I catalogued the song, George of the Jungle, and then Letters from a Thief, another song from Chevelle’s aforementioned album.

Though I had been listening to Chevelle on Spotify through my phone as I cleaned dining room during the last hour of my shift, it wasn’t always the last song that I heard which got stuck on loop in my mind the next day. It could also be triggered by something I saw or heard. One day recently, for instance, I remember having seen a plush Winnie the Pooh doll on the shelf in the break room and as aware as I was, try as I might, I could not, for the life of me, get the Winnie the Pooh song out of my head for a good portion of my shift.

Imagining myself being interviewed (as an artist, writer, musician or for reasons unspecified) has for long been my default scenario for depicting inner dialogue. It seems I do this for self-reflecting purposes and self-analysis. It is significantly different when it comes to what I call my Narratives of Justification, however, where I imagine the dumbest scenarios, such as explaining to someone why I put things in particular places or positions on the shelves while doing stock, talking in a similar fashion to cops who I imagine pulling me over, to my landlady as to why rent is late, or talking to cops that end up at my apartment door because someone smelled me smoking weed.

Other spontaneous daydreams involve fictional scenarios in which I rescue or save people, as in during a hold up in the restaurant in which I work, or when a customer grabs a hold of the arm of a girl on front counter. In any case, I cast myself in the role of either defending people or calming them, sometimes both.

On other occasions I find myself taking an imaginary guilt trip, doing something that inadvertently harms or even kills someone else. I hit a dog, a child, or an adult with my car, as an easy example. If I am unharmed or crippled as well, they suffer greater damage, typically death.

Another form of catastrophizing I engage in is imagining my own death. I am only torn apart by the reactions of others — either their grief or the lack of effect my corporeal departure had on them — not in reference to my own state.

Consistently I have found myself looking back on the present moment from some imagined point in the future, viewing the present as past, the now as later. As one example I documented some time ago, I was sitting at my computer desk, putting on my shoes to go do some errands, running through what I was to do in my mind. I started damning myself for being too lazy to add getting quarters to do laundry to the list — as if I had already gone out, not gotten them, and came back despite the fact that I had yet to leave.

More frequent is my imaginary fighting or arguing — with my mother, my boss, old friends, the fucking prep lady. Even imaginary people in totally fictitious scenarios. I get pissed off about arguments I never even had and I notice it primes me, at times, to have such arguments in real life, or bitch about those people in the attempts to blow off steam and circumvent such confrontations. This is clearly a waste of energy and it just makes my life more miserable.

Then there are the flashback bitchslaps: sudden, intrusive memories of high emotional intensity. These are of events which I feel — perhaps at the time, but surely in retrospect — made me appear stupid, inauthentic or pretentious in others’ eyes. Or the episode may have dealt with me having hurt someone. This may have been done intentionally, albeit while in the grips of consuming rage, or I may have only realized I had unintentionally done so out of ignorance or insensitivity just after it occurred. Far worse, I may only come to realize, or in the very least suspect, that I unintentionally hurt them only in retrospect, when the flashback hits me. Instead, I may realize that I had plagiarized someone else, which makes me feel phony, or that it at least had likely seemed that way to the other person.

The flashbacks in question may have been of events that happened earlier in the day, but may also be incidents that transpired weeks, months, or even a shocking number of years ago. In any case, in toto these flashback bitchslaps deal with me doing or saying something that I fear inspires others to perceive me in a way I find unfavorable.

I immediately, automatically and aggressively try and swallow it down in my mind by beating myself up inside through guilt, shame, embarrassment and anxiety in tandem with automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) in the more traditionally-conceived sense of internal dialogue — “judgements” might be a good label for them. So far in my personal notes, my personal judgments include the following phrases:

I’m such a turd.
I’m such a fucking asshole.
What the fuck is wrong with me?
Why do you get like that?

At some point years ago I began engaging in “thought-stopping”: things you say in response to the negative thoughts, emotions, memories and fantasies that arise automatically in your mind. I often find myself saying it aloud, as if in an attempt to talk over the noise in my head as I cringe inside:

Who the fuck knows?
I don’t fucking know.
Stop it.
I don’t even care.
I don’t give a shit.
I don’t even understand.
Oh, shut the fuck up.
Fuck that shit.

As a consequence, thought-stoppers like those listed above have become automatic as well — which is unfortunate, as thought-stopping not only fails to work but exacerbates the issue, leading to what is known as thought rebound. Pushing thoughts away is no more effective than clinging into them. Where attention goes, energy flows, but also: what you resist, persists.

Mirror, Mirror.

Mirror, mirror upon the wall,
I’m asking you, who is the most confused of them all?
Mirror, mirror, subservient twin,
screams back at me “You! You sick flawless mime,
I want to break you!”
— Mudvayne, Shadow of a Man.

As is the case with many of the memories that came to me around 1995, I can’t be certain how old I was, but the flashback was brief and vivid enough that despite the fact that no written records of it exist from the time of recall I am confident enough in how it played out. One could always argue that it was some vivid dream and nothing more, of course, but it certainly seemed to be a real occurrence to me.

I was in the bathroom at the house we lived in from my birth until 1988, and so no older than ten, standing on a small stool we had in the bathroom so that us kids could reach the sink and see ourselves in the mirror. I don’t know if I was brushing my teeth or combing my hair or if I was about to get in or just exiting the shower. In any case, I suddenly noticed, in the process, that something was wrong, peculiar, noticeably “off” about my reflection in the mirror. Unable to put my finger on it at first, it soon became obvious that my eyes were changing. They were slowly but with increasing speed growing at once larger and more slanted. I remember watching as I simultaneously felt my mouth falling open in shock, my growing, unblinking eyes unable to avert their gaze for a mere second. Uncertain if it was my actual face or merely my reflection undergoing this localized shapeshifting, I lifted up my hand to touch one of my eyes, sliding my fingers upon its smooth, slippery, rubbery surface.

Still later in 1995, after a night of what could perhaps be best described as a meditative exploration of my apparent past-life memories, I had gazed into the mirror in the upstairs bathroom with the lights off and had a strange visual experience. My reflected face was rapidly shapeshifting into what I presumed to be the faces of my former incarnations, many of which I had not formerly recalled episodically. It seemed as if my mirror image was trying to coagulate into a singular form that embraced the qualities of all previous corporeal containers. Unlike the earlier episode there was no question that this was an illusion, and one specific to my reflection as opposed to my actual face.

Many years later I came upon those who had experienced similar distortions of their reflections in Dr. Marlene Steinberg’s book, The Stranger in the Mirror: The Hidden Epidemic. For some time that has been my only lead for an explanation of the experience — assuming it was not some vivid, sensory-enriched dream. Until recently, that is, when I came upon the “Strange-Face-in-the-Mirror Illusion,” a 2010 publication in the journal Perception, by psychologist Giovanni B. Caputo of the University of Urbino in Italy. He ran an experiment in which some fifty volunteers sat in a dimly-lit room with a 25-watt lamp placed behind them. They were instructed to stare into a mirror for ten minutes and take note of the effects. After about a minute, strange shit began to happen. Caputo writes:

“The descriptions differed greatly across individuals and included: (a) huge deformations of one’s own face (reported by 66% of the fifty participants); (b) a parent’s face with traits changed (18%), of whom 8% were still alive and 10% were deceased; (c) an unknown person (28%); (d) an archetypal face, such as that of an old woman, a child, or a portrait of an ancestor (28%); (e) an animal face such as that of a cat, pig, or lion (18%); (f) fantastical and monstrous beings (48%).”

Their emotional responses were also interesting:

“The participants reported that apparition of new faces in the mirror caused sensations of otherness when the new face appeared to be that of another, unknown person or strange `other’ looking at him/her from within or beyond the mirror. All fifty participants experienced some form of this dissociative identity effect, at least for some apparition of strange faces and often reported strong emotional responses in these instances. For example, some observers felt that the `other’ watched them with an enigmatic expression – [a] situation that they found astonishing. Some participants saw a malign expression on the ‘other’ face and became anxious. Other participants felt that the `other’ was smiling or cheerful, and experienced positive emotions in response. The apparition of deceased parents or of archetypal portraits produced feelings of silent query. Apparition of monstrous beings produced fear or disturbance. Dynamic deformations of new faces (like pulsations or shrinking, smiling or grinding) produced an overall sense of inquietude for things out of control.”

In a follow-up publication the same year (2010), “Apparitional experiences of new faces and dissociation of self-identity during mirror gazing,” Caputo added that subjects reported that while they maintained self-consciousness of their own face they felt as if “a strange person was watching them from within or beyond the mirror”. He also concluded that the degree of lighting seemed to play a role in the illusion, which is to say that the lower the illumination the less time it took for one to experience the SFMI. More interesting are the effects of mirror-gazing on subjects suffering from depression and schizophrenia, two other studies of Caputo’s which he summarized in the abstract of his March, 2014 publication, “Archetypal-imaging and mirror-gazing,” in which he gives an overview of the studies on the matter:

“Recently, empirical research found that gazing at one’s own face in the mirror for a few minutes, at a low illumination level, produces the perception of bodily dysmorphic illusions of strange-faces. Healthy observers usually describe huge distortions of their own faces, monstrous beings, prototypical faces, faces of relatives and deceased, and faces of animals. In the psychiatric population, some schizophrenics show a dramatic increase of strange-face illusions. They can also describe the perception of multiple-others that fill the mirror surface surrounding their strange-face. Schizophrenics are usually convinced that strange-face illusions are truly real and identify themselves with strange-face illusions, diversely from healthy individuals who never identify with them. On the contrary, most patients with major depression do not perceive strange-face illusions, or they perceive very faint changes of their immobile faces in the mirror, like death statues.”

Why does this illusion happen? There are some pretty reasonable hypotheses. As Kaylee Brown put it in her December, 2016 article, “Eye Gazing: Science Reveals How it Affects Our Communication”:

“Our neurons can slow down and even completely stop their response to stimulation that is constant. This happens when you stare at anything — your perception changes until you blink or something within the scene changes.”

One way to put it, then, is that steady, prolonged mirror-gazing results in sensory ambiguity, and we have known for some time that the greater the ambiguity in a perceived stimulus the more fertile it becomes for psychological projection. Our brains naturally compensate for absent data and impose structure on chaotic information based on cues in the given context associated with data already stored in memory. Well, in the case of mirror-gazing, the cues are aspects of our face that remain detectable, and so another influential force here may be our capacity for facial recognition. This leads us to seek out the patterns of a face in our projections: as your face distorts due to neural adaptation, your brain conjures up faces stored in memory that fit the available — which is to say fluctuating — data, which result in illusions of faces that are not your own.

The weakest and mildest projections manifest as pareidolia, such as when we look at a spill on a counter, a stain on the concrete or clouds in the sky and “see” figures and even scenes. This can increase to illusions, as when someone is approaching you from a distance and you’re certain it’s a friend, only to find as proximity increases that it is a total stranger. In some cases projection can even produce full-blown hallucinations, as in cases of sensory deprivation.

My experience in the darkened bathroom after my exploration of my alleged reincarnational world-line would perhaps reside on the cusp betwixt illusion and hallucination, but my memory of my reflection of a child in a bathroom of full lighting would clearly have to constitute a hallucination — not merely in the visual sphere, either, but in a tactile sense, as I distinctly remember touching my eye to ensure it was merely my reflection that was changing, only to find that it was, despite my hopes, my actual face as well. Nothing that Caputo has published to my knowledge could explain that aspect of the memory, given it was not a vivid dream — not even the experiences of schizophrenics.

I must confess: that is not the least bit comforting.

***

For more information regarding the aforementioned studies conducted by Caputo (et al.), please consult the following links (or use the titles as search queries):

Strange-Face-in-the-Mirror Illusion,” 2010.
“Apparitional experiences of new faces and dissociation of self-identity during mirror gazing,” 2010.
“Visual perception during mirror gazing at one’s own face in schizophrenia,” 2012.
Visual perception during mirror-gazing at one’s own face in patients with depression,” 2014.
Archetypal-imaging and mirror-gazing,” 2014.

Desperation in Precog.

Slipping forward now
into a smoky labyrinth, eyes and arms striving.

Deep down, I’m panicking.
What insanity, that I would have accepted
such responsibility. Such a fool
to have someone I care for count on me.

Unethical.
Failure of empathy.
Death of hope for me.

Pull me back again.
Can’t face this. Confront what is to be.
Shame: already infecting me,
all as it should be.

Unforgivable.

Plow through the crowd,
casting mist away to feed frantic eyes
as I scream her name, demand
she comes back to me.

I’ll give anything,
anything,

just let me know
that you’re all right…

Polishing Ajna.

Jonas and Elizabeth come over between eight and nine in the evening. I had woken up from my post-third-shift slumber a few hours before, drank some coffee, relaxed, taken a shit and a shower and waited while trying not to think, think, think.

Elizabeth was wearing all black save for her tie-dye hippie socks. It had been awhile since I had seen Jonas, and his hair had grown and taken on a look that reminded me of the traditional style of the eighties. Kind of like Luke in Star Wars: A New Hope. I met them at the side entrance to my building and Elizabeth led the way up three flights of stairs and along the short stroll to the door to my one-bedroom apartment, where we all sat down in the front room in front of my laptop monitor. I had set up the papasan by the computer for myself, as I knew it would be the most comfortable thing for me to sit on during the experience.

Jonas has some initial difficulties cutting one of the tabs in two, finally succeeding by use of the X-Acto knife I typically use to clean out my bowl. Using their tweezers, he then places a whole tab on her tongue, one of the halves on his own.

This was happening. I felt wary. Did I want to do this? Me, I always said I’d never do this. Then he picks up the other half with the tweezers and extends it towards me.

Shit. This is the moment of truth.

I’m nervous, not entirely ready, and in my hesitation he accidentally drops it. Though this would be unfortunate in the event it could not be found, I was thankful for the moment of reflection it permitted me. We look around for it on the carpet between us all as I try and build up some courage. Eventually one of them finds that it had fallen into my shoe. With the tweezers, he plucks it from my sole and places it on my open sketch pad. With diminishing reluctance I go for the tweezers but Elizabeth says it would probably be easier to just lick it off my sketch pad. It seems a weird way to go and that typically works for me, so I do it. I feel mildly apprehensive after doing so, but curiosity of what may be to come quickly takes dominance.

We smoke a bowl, a cigarette each, and I try to keep it under my tongue, eventually realizing that it is gone. That I must have swallowed it. They tell me not to worry.

As I did not take notes during the experience, I cannot be sure of the exact sequence of all events, though particular events in and of themselves are certainly vivid. It began while we were watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

If I were to do this, I had decided some time ago, I had to watch Cosmos, most of all episode 13, “Unafraid of the Dark,” which was particularly visually stunning in its depiction of supernovas. Elizabeth also insisted we watch episode 5, “Hiding in the Light,” mainly due to the portion regarding soundwaves. It was still on Netflix, thankfully, and so we watched “Hiding in the Light” first.

At some point as we were watching it I suddenly feel as if certain parts of my brain light up, blasting me into this heightened awareness. My vision was crisp. I felt this intensity in my body. I felt a sense of euphoria with a side of anxiety.

As time went on I experienced periods of sudden, incredible and sturdy focus — which would be strange enough if it did not seem as if I could focus on several points simultaneously. Psychological absorption was at an all-time high. Fantasy seemed more like a parallel world I had equal access to alongside sensory reality; shifting between them was akin to changing channels or switching stations. In time I came to be very, very absorbed in what we were watching on my laptop.For other, brief periods — at least once, to be sure — I became tangled in a web of divergent attention and high-speed thoughts, achieving a height of frustrating confusion before wriggling myself out of it and coming back into focus.

To my left I could see my bedroom door, opened just a crack, and the light bleeding through kept catching my attention, fucking with me. I finally had to get up and open the door. Then I kept thinking I was seeing the lights and shadows from the bathroom, accessible through my bedroom, move as if something was there. At one point, I thought I saw something small and white run from the bathroom into the darkness at the other side of my room. None of it frightened me for more than a second, after which I realized it was just my imagination and laughed at myself in response.

When I was talking with Elizabeth and Jonas sometimes I would catch the laptop monitor out of the corner of my eye, convinced for a moment that something was playing on it, like a movie or something, but there was merely a motionless visual on the screen. It kept fucking with me in a fashion similar to crack in bedroom doorway.

In our conversation before taking the acid, they told me I should eat first and if I needed to poop, I should do it beforehand, because it was rather disconcerting under the influence of this chemical. They also told me that pissing was kind of strange, but I knew I would be unable to avoid that one — in general, I tend to take in a lot of fluid: water, coffee, iced tea, booze. This equals pissing like a race horse.

When I inevitably had to get up to pee, Elizabeth suggested I look at myself in the mirror. Piddling itself was a perplexing experience indeed. I felt high up, incredibly tall and skinny, and it seemed as though my dick way, way down there was pissing into a teeny-tiny toilet. After I went to the sink and washed and dried my hands, I looked up, into the mirror, focusing on my eyes. My face seemed to morph around my point of focus, though not into anything discernible. My vision brightened, everything seemed white and yellow. I was transfixed for a while, but eventually returned to the front room and sat in my comfy nest.

Over the entire course of the evening, I had only one fully-scale visual hallucination. As I was watching the bedroom door (which I had absentmindedly closed again when returning from pissing and skrying) this little transparent ball with a long, tadpole tail swam in a slow, wavelike fashion across my field of vision. It was like an oversize, slow-mo air-sperm.

Getting up, I opened the door again.

More subjective strangeness took place than sensory, hallucinatory phenomena. For instance, at times I felt that while I was inside my body I was not entirely attached to it. I often felt as if I was residing in my body in positions that I ordinarily did not. Typically I feel as though my consciousness resides inside my head, for instance, but for a period I felt as though I was hanging out in the chest area.

So we watched the two episodes of Cosmos. The segment on sound waves was astounding, though I got the feeling that it was not the “full experience” Elizabeth had experienced herself when she watched it on acid. When we got to the episode on supernovas, I must have been at or near my peak. More than just the beautiful explosions of dying stars, there was the journey through space in general that drug me in, embraced me. I even said to them, “Twelve hours of just that. Just journeying through the stars. I would love it.” In retrospect it reminded me of those dreams I had as a kid, just soaring through the stars at fantastic speed, alone in the vast, silent beauty of space.

At some point the journey ended as the camera pulled out from space into Neil deGrasse Tyson’s star-spore, dandelion-seed-shaped Spaceship of the Imagination through one of the windows — which initially looked to me like the gigantic, slanted, almond eye of your typical Gray alien. No one else seemed to make that connection. I don’t know if I felt sad to be alone or thankful for my isolated association.

After the two episodes, we watched Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, where I came to confront the Cheshire Cat, another symbol from my past. After we began coming down and had tired of conversation, we turned back to Netflix and watched the first two or three episodes of American Dad, which I had never seen before. I noticed that I was more prone to laughter, at times ridiculous laughter. While I felt in most cases the laughter was appropriate, it was far, far more amusing than it would have been had I been sober, or even stoned out of my mind on Mary Jane. I was laughing so hard there were tears in my eyes.

It was morning when we finally came entirely down. They slept on the couch in the living room and I closed my bedroom door and lay in my bed. My body was so comfortable. There was no tossing, no turning. My body was relaxed, vibrating, though my mind was still acute. They had given me half a pill of a muscle relaxer, and it finally kicked in.

When I awoke, to my disappointment, I didn’t remember any dreams, though I did recall that I had some that I would have found interesting.

A Tagged Fish Story.

Imagine a relatively isolated pond has been discovered. You are part of a science team dispatched to catch a dozen fish from various areas of the pond, examine them, “tag” them with an implanted microchip and then release them back into their fluid environment. The implant allows you to monitor the fish remotely, enabling you to not only determine the location of the fish at all times but their internal chemistry. Periodically throughout the course of its life-cycle the fish is recaptured for a more direct examination — a check-up of sorts — then released, just as before.

This isn’t all that unusual. We do not only subject fish to this sort of program, either, but bears, monkeys, birds — you name it. The precise manner in which the individual animals are apprehended and released differ for reasons that should seem obvious.

A fish might be captured by means of a fishing line with hooked bait on the end, perhaps a net. The bear and monkey pose more of a threat to the scientists, obviously, so they may have first been separated from their herd or troop and then shot with a tranquilizer dart from a helicopter or perhaps from the ground behind some trees.

Despite these surface distinctions if a monkey, a fish and a bird subjected to these procedures were able to communicate with one another in a support group they would find more than enough common ground between them to empathize with one another and realize they all shared a common experience — and, it seems, a common enemy.

Human scientists often execute such catch-and-release operations to study the natural development of an organism or their migration patterns.

Maybe they even altered the DNA of the animal, making it a transgenic or genetically modified organism (GMO), and are studying how the transgenes express themselves throughout the lifecycle. Some catch-and-release programs may extend to the animal’s offspring. Bloodlines could be followed for generations.

It is easy for us to imagine ourselves in the position of the scientists but imagine, for a moment, what it must be like for the animal. What stories might they tell the fellow members of their school in the wake of their recurring, traumatic, otherworldly experiences?

Just as it was in Plato’s parable of the cave, it would surely be nothing that would make them sound anything short of batshit fucking mad.

An alien abduction? Perhaps human beings are the fish, birds, or monkeys to some “higher intelligence.” Generations of tagged fish subject to catch-and-release by alien scientists out of their little, isolated pond…

Mindfulness Versus the Hypnodomme.

For a good while — sometime between six months to a full year — I came home every night, sat on my couch or my papasan, set the timer on my iPhone for anywhere between ten minutes and half an hour, closed my eyes and fought to remain motionless as I summoned determination to focus exclusively on my breath. Once I failed, I worked on not beating myself up about it and instead returned as gracefully as I could to my point of focus: the nostrils, the breath.

It was all going so well. And then it wasn’t.

I stopped my daily practice at around the same time I began drinking nightly, which was, I think, very early in July of 2015. It seemed counterproductive to continue engaging in both and I wouldn’t stop drinking, so the bottle won the battle. Two days ago, on Christmas Eve, I meditated for the first time in a long time and instantly remembered why I had once kept up with it on a nightly basis to begin with: the pleasant, however transient sense of focus I can achieve during the practice; the sense that it somehow serves to balance out my brain; the ability to reach beyond my emotions, thoughts and memories into a place more central, more true to me, a closer approximation my “original face” otherwise suffocating behind the thick and icky masque of the everyday.

Honesty, I was pretty damned surprised that after not having practiced for so long that I achieved any immediate benefit at all.

Then again, I have continued subjecting myself to hypnosis since abandoning meditation — and they are essentially the same thing, right? Meditation is just hypnosis initiated and guided by oneself. Hypnosis is just meditation initiated and guided by someone else. Even so, I prefer meditation, particularly since I have sensed something insidious about those hypnodomme videos on the net. Evidently, this means little to whatever part of me is under control in these instances. Typically I feel compelled to watch them when I’m alone and high. The issue, the urge, has continued to plague high-me with a rhythm comprised of piques and troughs.

It has been some time since I’ve consciously addressed it at length — even longer since I wrote about it. It embarrasses me that much. I mean, from at least as far back as high school I have intentionally avoided watching or investing any attention in commercials on television or the net because I fear being brainwashed. I still do this despite the fact that, when I’m high, I am overcome by this state-dependent impulse to seek out videos that essentially aim to do just that. Maybe it’s just the relative honesty that earns my respect.

Another contradiction about all of this is my profound distaste for the newest brand of feminism, whatever you wish to call it — the brand of feminism that seeks not egalitarianism but female dominance, idolizing women as it demonizes men, modeling their desired matriarchy over the perceived presence of an oppressive patriarchy.

Let me be clear: I’m all for equality, equity, egalitarianism. We all have equal value as individuals regardless of the body we happened to be born into. It’s Dualism (of the philosophy of the mind) at work in me. Sex, gender identity, sexual persuasion, skin pigment, point of origin and so on and so forth — prejudice on that basis is unethical. No one should be oppressed. We are all individuals and we have personal rights that should be self-evident and recognized by whatever typically corrupt social system we are embedded in. Do what you will, be who you are, so long as it oppresses no other. This does not seem to be what modern feminism stands for, however.

Chauvinist pigs and sexists can sport any of the available kinds of genitalia: it is by no means exclusive to men. Their are dictators, pussytators, and I’m sure their are hermaphrotators: there are -tators for everyone. And -tators are the enemy.

This malevolent quality is not always something I sense from the hypnodommes, but it does seem to be a prevalent undercurrent — and despite my distaste for it, I still keep falling under their spell. I pluralize it — “hypnodommes” — because it is more than one hypnodomme I have come to listen to, though Hypnotic Haylee was the genesis and remains the nucleus. My attempts to diversify in this area was an attempt to at least ensure I would not be owned by or bound to any single one.

I do not let this practice carry over into the sober state, either, as an effort to compartmentalize the issue, to quarantine the whole thing. The sober part of me of hates that it relaxes me, that it helps me shut my mind up so that I — drunk, high and hypnotized — can finally get some sleep. This makes it no less stupid of me, makes me no less of a weak minded fool, of course, and of this I am painfully aware. My shame and self loathing over this has helped me limit the effects, too.

Mindfulness meditation can help me own myself, find myself, be myself, create myself, make it so the mask I’m trapped within more accurately reflects whatever strange, unearthly soul hides behind it. It can make it so that my Original Face does not hide so much as merely, and inevitably, reside behind it. Hypnodommes? They seem counterproductive. As soon as I think of Hypnotic Haylee’s green eyes, however, and particularly when I’m high, I all-too-often succumb.

Still I oscillate between something approximating weakness and something approximating strength — but the weakness has taken over. Time to balance this out…