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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Tale of a Mangled Monomyth.

Every hero
begins as a fool,
and ends
as one.

Old age is wisdom.
Highrise after the fall.
Enlightenment dawns

like the first light
bleeding
through the crack

of the cheeks
as you pull

your head out of that filthy,
narcissistic hole.

You must be the child inside,
then lose
him in the dust,
lock and bury
him alive,

six feet down:
turn on your true being,
your very essence,

all just to exist,
earn independence,

and only then can the adult
turn ‘round,
summon the dead
to rise from their graves,
all to integrate the abandoned
inner infant.

Old man
cannibalizing
the child:

miss the memo? Forget the map?
Did you even read the manual?

You never grew up.

You fucked it all
up, managed
to mangle the monomyth…

Now it’s forced to adapt.

Telepathy and Eye Contact.

“When eye contact between two people is initiated and maintained, an invisible energetic circuit is established between the two participants, dissolving the barriers that ordinarily separate them from each other, drawing them ever closer into a shared awareness of union.”
— Will Johnson, The Spiritual Practices of Rumi: Radical Techniques for Beholding the Divine.

“Portal sits deep within the eye.
The eye of yin’s severity
rewards understanding.”
— Mudvayne, Mercy, Severity.

In addition to my personal experiences, parapsychological research suggests that not only is eye gazing unnecessary for telepathy to occur, but distance between the subjects in question ultimately makes no difference, either. Despite this, eyes certainly hold a particular and peculiar power for me and I continue my struggle to understand why. It doesn’t help matters that aside from the alien abduction literature in general and my own experiences in particular I have only heard of experiences of “ocular telepathy” through two other sources.

Years ago, when I found Koda on the net, he had yet to write his 2004 book Instant Enlightenment: Metaphysical Fast Food, which I have since purchased. His interest in metaphysics was first sparked as a teenager in the early 1970s after experimenting with psychedelics. Since then he has explored the paranormal through conversation and tested out various techniques on his own.

His first attempt at telepathy occurred when he and a friend were alone, smoking hashish, and the technique was a rather basic one: Koda tried to focus on and “send” a letter as his friend tried to “receive” it. After visualizing a letter for about five minutes, his frustration grew and he screamed to himself mentally, at which time his friend screamed it quite verbally. They tried to repeat it several times that day and failed, but now that he had confirmed telepathy to his satisfaction he decided to see what other questions in this area he could lay to rest.

After attempting and accomplishing two other paranormal feats while alone in his bedroom that evening, as he explained it, “My ego was glowing profusely.” Upon going to the local coffee shop and telling some of his friends and classmates, however, he was met with only disbelief and ridicule. Frustrated, he was immediately set on revenge, and he stumbled upon the means some weeks later at that very coffee shop.

They often held staring contests and one girl always seemed to be better than the rest. Whenever he challenged her he would be doing fine for a short while before he cracked a grin and lost the game. He finally thought he would try thinking of a joke during their staring and telepathically “send” it to her to see if he could get her to laugh. It worked, even during the rematch she demanded. When she asked how he had done it and he told her, she confessed to using the same technique.

He then began practicing telepathy far more blatantly — and with a certain vengeance. He would begin the process using cold reading, approaching a friend, looking in their eyes and saying,”Let me see if I can read your mind.” Judging from their facial expressions he could easily determine that they thought he was full of shit, so he told them just that. They would confess it was so but maintained that it proved nothing. Then he would declare that they were now trying to think of something more specific and less obvious. Then he would tell them that they were beginning to wonder if he really could read their mind after all given his accuracy this far. At this point he began to generate fear in them, which as a consequence made them focus all the more intensely on whatever they were thinking about.

Up to this point, it was all cold reading, but it became, in this way, effective foreplay for telepathy. He slowly and systematically built up fear in them that he could read their minds and once that emotional component achieved sufficient intensity — typically when he went one step further and accused them of being terrified that he might be capable of knowing their deepest, darkest secrets — their focus became so locked on their specific, sustained thoughts that, as he put it, they essentially broadcasted their thoughts to him. He would then tell them what they were thinking, which by this point was something very specific, and they would confess that he could do it after all.

He did this daily for two weeks and got quite proficient at it before deciding he had had enough. Not only did he finally feel that he gotten even with them, he could no longer deal with the feelings of absolute terror he generated in them in the process. To make matters worse, even after making it known that he had stopped, people still avoided him for roughly two months.

It was two years before he started investigating telepathy again, this time with the intent of teaching others how to do it. In time he developed what he came to call the “Psychic Window Technique” in which two people engage in prolonged staring or mutual gazing at a short distance. According to Koda, this technique has a few effects.

In the midst of prolonged eye-gazing he would perceive strange illusions in his partner’s face: areas would often appear blurry, darker, or become more pronounced. Sometimes these distortions gave way to full-blown hallucinatory shape-shifting into the faces of strangers, animals, and even stranger things. His partner, it turned out, would see the same illusions, simultaneously and with equal intensity on his own face. He came to call this effect “visual telepathy,” and it is essentially this that first brought him to my attention. It helped explain an incident I’d had on December 15, 2001.

For some time I had been working at a particular fast food restaurant where I also often spent a considerable and embarrassing amount of my time off. A few hours before work I would come in, get my free and essentially bottomless cup of coffee, sit in my booth in the smoking section and spend my free time writing, reading, thinking and, in my idle time, people-watching. It was one of the few unofficial benefits of the job.

On the day in question a guy I had briefly worked with at another fast food job saw me, took a seat at the opposite end of my booth and we engaged in a short conversation. He was there with some guy, perhaps a brother, who had a young kid with him. After we concluded our conversation, he got up and left. I went back to my writing, lost in my own personal trance, having assumed that was the end of it. I could not have been more mistaken. As I have previously written:

“I was jolted… by the sound of something hitting the far end of my booth. Startled and curious, I looked up to find a dome of blond hair poking out from just beyond the end of the table. It was the upper hemisphere of a toddler’s head. One hand of his was grabbing a hold of the end of the table; in the other, he held his cup with the sippy-top. He was looking dead at me, and instead of meeting his eyes I just sort of laughed under my breath, turned my head back down, placed the pen to the page and continued my writing. My eyes didn’t even reach my notebook before I heard it again. Looking back up, I immediately locked eyes with the kid and found myself imprisoned there. The gateways to my mind were being held hostage.

My peripheral vision was suddenly enshrouded in this dark, blurry overcast. While the eyes at the end of the tunnel shared the shadowy opaqueness, it was also possessed with a hyper-vivid quality. This sense of pressure built in my head, as if energy from his eyes were literally pushing into my mind, as if breaking and entering the mind and scanning and downloading personal files. A virtual form of search and seizure or, in this case, a telepathic analogue.

After a moment, he seemed satisfied and strangely amused, looking at me in a creepy way, as if he knew a “dark secret,” as I had later phrased it, that somehow connected him and I. The edges of his lips then curled slowly upward to an unnatural height, almost as if this surreal Cheshire Cat grin belonged somewhere in the twilight betwixt reality and cartoon.

Soon he walked away slowly with who I presume to be my ex-coworker’s friend holding his hand, but my line of sight was still ensnared by his eyes. He held me in his ocular tractor beam until he was out of my line of sight, at which time I felt him release my mind from his psychic grip.

Sinking down into the booth, I was cold and trembling, heart pumping wildly beneath gooseflesh. My eyes felt a strange, widened sort of pain, and it felt as if I could still feel the residual feeling of him being inside my head. I tried to look intensely out into nowhere, to “stare” the feeling out of me as if I were trying to flush out the psychic lines or something.”

According to Koda, this mutuality of experience does not end with visual illusions and hallucinations of the face, either, but extends to emotional states and physical sensations. One can even play a game, he suggests, in which one takes on the role of the blind receiver as the other intentionally generates and attempts to communicate a specific emotion or sensation.

This brings us to the 1998 book, Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, by Kary Mullis, a biochemist who won the Nobel Prize for his invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in 1983. Despite his accomplishments and credentials he is, to put it mildly, a controversial figure and an interesting character with even more interesting personal anecdotes to relate. In a chapter entitled, “Intervention on the Astral Plane,” he recounts his experience with a woman he introduces as Katherine O’Keefe who had astounding abilities — though I will focus on a single instance he cited which occurred on the day he met her “in the flesh,” in December of 1978. They met first at a Bakery and she then followed him home:

“We talked briefly about nothing much in kitchen and then made love before I knew anything more than her name. She looked deep into my eyes and did something to me with her mind that was ecstatic. It seemed to me as if a little tentacle had reached into my mid-brain and tickled my hypothalamus” (p 93).

In 2002, while I still worked at the fast food restaurant previously mentioned, I had met Angela, a beautiful girl that had some strange experiences of her own. When we worked nights together she used to get up real close to my face and stare at me in the eyes, which I always enjoyed. At one point, while staring at me in that way, she did something akin to what Mullis described. I received this intense, joyous, almost orgasmic high that reached a fever pitch, overwhelming me and causing my field of perception to ripple like the surface of a disturbed body of water.

I had experienced such perceptual distortions before, to be certain, though the emotional component had never before achieved such intensity. One of the first occasions this happened, I was attending a dance with my girlfriend at the time at her school. In passing, as I was walking behind her through a crowded room, I happened to lock eyes with a random girl and the same thing occurred: a rising high with rippling vision. And she had done it at some distance, too.

Koda also writes about telepathically transmitting and receiving emotionally-charged imagery. Having read it for the first time in the process of writing this, it made me think of two experiences of mine.

The first happened during high school sometime after the flashbacks. I was in English class and we were all in our seats working on our papers independently and the teacher was walking up and down the isles, observing us as we worked. Occasionally she would stop and talk to a student in whispered tones. She walked up to my desk, leaned down to talk to me and as I looked up I happened to look her directly in the eyes. It was as if I was sucked into the vortex of her pupils. Inside, I saw things rotting, dripping with a venomous, sewage-like substance, absolutely grotesque, ill and deprived of life. And in an instant I broke the link, looking away from her, totally confused as to what had just happened.

Years later, the same sort of thing happened to me with a kid on April 8, 2002 as I was in a booth at work talking with a Tess, a co-worker and passing romantic interest:

“As her and I spoke, I found myself a bit distracted when this family of four came in. There was a curly-haired brunette lady who I presumed to be the mother; a tall, dark-haired man who’s face I never saw, and two kids. There was a younger one who had blond hair and blue eyes and looked rather frail-looking. His head was kind of big, too. The other was older with dark hair. The mother sat down in the booth behind my friend – booth number five – with the frail boy between her and the wall. Across from her and back-to-back with my friend was the tall man. Across from the blond haired kid and tall man sat the dark-haired boy.

It was the blond that first caught my attention. He was a cute little kid with bright blue eyes, but something about him made me uneasy. Though I was quick to attribute it to paranoia, for a few moments I watched him closely just to be sure. As I was scrutinizing, both kids stood up at once, leaned towards one another from across their table and placed themselves forehead to forehead, like playful bucks locked in a duel, staring dead into one another’s eyes. The mother lightly backhanded the blond kid and told them both to stop.

My attention slipped back to Tess, who was still talking. I had absolutely no fucking clue what the hell she had been saying, and even what she was saying at present seemed to be empty words lost in a jumble. I was getting really, really uncomfortable, and I had no idea why. It all seemed very odd. Somehow, something just didn’t feel right.

Then I looked back up over her shoulder. The dark-haired kid seemed to sense my eyes on him, and he suddenly turned around and looked dead at me and have me a Cheshire Cat grin. When I meet his eyes his pupils grow large, darker-than-dark, and it suddenly it feels as if I’m violently dragged forward and right into them. It’s like we’re in this foggy bubble where we’re only eyes and mind, and only him and I exist, and the rest of the world grows blurred and distorted. It was definitely visual — he looked magnified, abstract and surreal, and I could still see that Cheshire grin, wide and cartoon-like. It certainly wasn’t limited to image, though. It was as if our eye contact had merged us mentally, fused us. I felt as though I was in his mind, or that he was in mine, or that we now shared a mind.

I looked away. It took me a few seconds or so of staring at the table in front of me to realize just what the hell had happened. I knew I wasn’t sleeping, so I couldn’t be dreaming. I wasn’t on drugs. Tess was still talking, but when she looked up at me she did a double-take and then stopped dead in her tracks. I imagine the look on my face must have been about as fucked up as I was feeling. She studied me another moment before asking what was wrong.

Looking at her, staring deep into her eyes, I found that nothing happened. If this was in my head, I wondered, wouldn’t looking into her eyes do the same thing? I looked back at the kid, thinking this might have been something I’d imagined — half hoping, as a matter of fact, that it had truly been something that I’d imagined. Then it all happened again. He goes into my head, grinning again, almost as if he’s a fucking cartoon. If I focused at all, I feared I might be locked there forever; that I might be trapped there and the rest of reality might fade away.

He looks away. While I’m sitting there pale as a ghost and freaking out, he’s sitting there amused. It’s almost as if he thought it was funny that he could do this. He leaned over the table again and whispered to the blond haired kid. Then he turns back to me and does it again, grinning that wide and freaky Cheshire cat grin, eyes as big and black as universes.”

Koda ultimately experienced something far more extreme than me in this respect, however. In the summer of 1984 he writes how he was practicing the technique with a friend of his in a coffee shop when, for roughly six seconds, they both suddenly saw the same detailed scene from the same perspective:

“I was looking directly at a very pretty blond girl about nineteen-years-old. She was perhaps six feet away, facing slightly toward my left as she sat in front of an old-fashion chest of drawers topped with a large, ornate mirror. Her dress was bright yellow, laced up the front and had a white, ruffled collar. She was brushing her long blond hair with very slow strokes, looking rather absent minded, as if she were daydreaming about some hoped-for future. To the left of the dresser was the closed bedroom door. Without knowing why, I was certain there was a hallway on the other side of the door. I knew that toward the right the hall lead to the back door and the barn area, while on the left the hall opened into the living room. On the other side of the hall from the bedroom was the kitchen. I knew where all the pots and pans and lanterns were hung, that the road came in from west in front of the house and most of the fields were in that direction. I knew everything about the place as quickly as my mind could scan the area, including the ‘fact’ that I was in a farmhouse in Southern California in the late 1800s” (p 18).

In rare instances, he says, even thoughts can be communicated — as exemplified to some degree in his initial experience with his friend on hashish and his subsequent mind-reading of his friends and classmates. It also brings us back to Mullis. In a chapter of the aforementioned book entitled, “My Evening With Harry,” Mullis recounts an experience he had in 1978 in San Francisco.

He was sitting at his kitchen table with his friend, Harry, a fellow chemist, who he had not seen in some time. They both drank some beer and Harry smoked a joint. After explaining that he wanted to show him something, he turned to Mullis with wide eyes and asked him to stare into his eyes and do his best not to blink or react if his face happened to change. As Mullis goes on to explain:

“His face did change. It was still Harry, but varieties of Harry I had not seen. Different faces appeared out of the familiar flesh, which now wasn’t so familiar. Some of them were humans I didn’t know, some were not human at all. They were animal. They were all Harry in some way I couldn’t explain. I was seeing things in him that were him but not a part of the life we had shared. It was a little scary, but Harry was somehow underneath it smiling that confident smile” (p 86).

(p 86)

They both admitted to being inside each other’s minds (“the front room — the reception area,” Mullis explained) and then Mullis broke it off for a moment, grabbed two pens and some index cards.

“We were being scientists. We both wrote down a word and then showed each other our cards. It was the same word. Just a word, nothing cosmic, but it was the same, and we knew it would be. We did it again and again, and we knew every time it would be the same. We were watching something — always present but usually dormany — from a privileged position that we had created by putting ourselves together in some way. It was absolutely normal and yet it wasn’t” (p 87).

Recently I came upon some articles regarding eye-gazing experiments that inspired me to try researching the subject again, hoping to find something. While I found no further personal anecdotes, I did happen upon some interesting and relevant studies. In a video by The Liberators International they invited strangers to publicly engage in eye contact for one, whole, psychologically-juicy minute. After the predictable awkwardness produced at the onset, participants reported the very heights of elation. This predominantly emotional experience may have been overshadowed by some haunting hallucinatory phenomena if ocular engagement had continued for ten minutes, however, at least according to experiments conducted by Giovanni B. Caputo, a psychologist at the University of Urbino in Italy.

I was first introduced to Caputo’s work through an article regarding his studies on mirror-gazing in which he found that after perhaps no more than a minute of staring at one’s reflection subjects experienced what he called the Strange-Face-in-the-Mirror Illusion. Features would darken or become more pronounced; people would see, instead of their own faces, those of strangers, animals, or monstrous beings. In further experiments in which he explored the effects of what has been variously referred to as interpersonal, intersubjective or mutual eye-gazing, he found that the same basic manifestations emerged.

In a paper entitled, “Dissociation and hallucinations in dyads engaged through interpersonal gazing,” Caputo described an experiment in which he paired off 20 people (15 women, 5 men) and had them sit facing each other at a distance of roughly three feet in a dimly-lit room where they were instructed to gaze into one another’s eyes for ten minutes. There was also a control group of 20 placed in more or less the same conditions, though in this case they were instructed to gaze at a blank wall. Each group then completed three questionnaires relating to their experience. The initial dealt with dissociative states, the remaining two focused on their experience of the point of focus — the control group’s wall or the face of your partner. The results were astonishing:

“The participants in the eye-staring group said they’d had a compelling experience unlike anything they’d felt before. They also scored higher on all three questionnaires than the control group. On the dissociative states test, they gave the strongest ratings to items related to reduced colour intensity, sounds seeming quieter or louder than expected, becoming spaced out, and time seeming to drag on. On the strange-face questionnaire, 90 per cent of the eye-staring group agreed that they’d seen some deformed facial traits, 75 per cent said they’d seen a monster, 50 per cent said they saw aspects of their own face in their partner’s face, and 15 per cent said they’d seen a relative’s face.”

As explained elsewhere, a cocktail of neural adaptation, psychological projection and facial recognition would explain the surreal effects that can manifest during mirror-gazing; the same would appear to be true for mutual gazing. This would not, at least so obviously, explain why interpersonal gazing would constitute the more intense experience of the two — nor would it begin to explain the seemingly telepathic effects. There are, however, at least two separate studies that may offer some insight. One was conducted by psychologists from the University of Stirling involving 20 five-year-old children. It concluded that those who averted eye contact in order to consider how they would answer questions were more apt to answer correctly than those who maintained their gaze. In another study conducted at Kyoto University in Japan (the results of which were published as “When we cannot speak: Eye contact disrupts resources available to cognitive control processes during verb generation”) participants played word association games of varying complexity while looking at a variety of faces that were either staring or looking away. During eye contact, they did more poorly during the most complex questions.

In both cases, then, it was suggested that cognitive effort and eye contact interfered with one another. While neither study so much as references hypnosis, the conclusions of both appear to resonate well with hypnotist Scott Jansen’s allegation, which is that sustained eye contact generates “psychological pressure” that diminishes conscious thinking. Subliminal or unconscious thought then rushes in to compensate, heightening one’s suggestibility. In other words, eye contact could be seen as the most basic form of the most typical of induction techniques used by hypnotists both on and off the stage: what is variously known as the direct gaze, fixed gaze or fixation method of hypnotic induction. Though this can be used to refer to the subject’s fixation on nearly anything — a candle’s flame, a finger, a swinging watch — among the objects of potential focus are the hypnotist’s eyes. The issue here is that inducing hypnosis does not alone explain the seemingly telepathic effect, as there are no clearly no overt, hypnotic suggestions to follow in the midst of silent, mutual gazing — and they would prove difficult to deliver, too, perhaps, given the interference it evidently has with respect to cognition.

There may very well be nonverbal hypnotic suggestions at play here, however. Consider that eyes are essentially extensions of the brain that not only receive external signals as sense organs but can also transmit the brain’s own signals to other pairs of eyes. When you engage in eye contact with another person you pick up on the expressions on their face and, of course, the movements of their own eyes. While you can consciously perceive the eye movements known as saccades, such as when the person looks back and forth, there are various forms of subtler, involuntary movements that occur even when those eyes remain fixed on your own, and they may also communicate nonverbal information regarding their inner state. By picking up on these external, nonverbal reactions to their own minds we may instinctively decode those signals and replicate the other person’s inner state within ourselves. Hypnotic trance through silent, prolonged mutual gaze would only amplify such effects.

Those effects are certainly there, too, whatever the cause. In a 2015 study published in the journal Neuroimage, 96 volunteers were split into pairs and proceeded to engage in mutual gazing under the watchful eye of fMRIs. It was found that not only did the pairs begin blinking in unison, their brain activity synchronized in the area of the right inferior frontal gyrus. The remaining question is whether these mundane processes are enough to explain the effects of what I, perhaps lamely, have referred to for some time as ocular telepathy. To put it more plainly: if through prolonged mutual gazing you are capable of sharing or exchanging hallucinations, emotions, mental images and even thoughts with your partner, does it remain a viable hypothesis that the aforementioned normal — as opposed to paranormal — processes are the culprit?

Taken as a whole, it seems a stretch. To break it down in specific bits: being capable, in the midst of locked gaze, of reading emotional states through nonverbals and experiencing them as your own — or experiencing them as emotions from an external source, namely that of your partner — is a hypothesis that would be relatively easy for me to accept, especially given what we know regarding our inherent capacity to subliminally and automatically translate body language. When it comes to sharing hallucinations and subjective imagery, however, I am far more skeptical, and when it comes to communicating thoughts — say in the fashion of Mullis and Harry at the kitchen table exchanging those index cards — it seems absolutely absurd.

So how might one explain this?

We know that ordinary sense perception exists. Our mundane senses do not operate in isolation, however, but are in constant concert, influencing one another with the aim of delivering a seemingly seamless sensory experience to consciousness. Smell, for instance, affects taste, as anyone who has had nasal congestion can attest to. Wine tasters swirl the fluid in the glass, take a hearty whiff, and then sip, utilizing all relevant senses as they contribute to a more holistic, mindful experience of the taste.

There is sufficient data in parapsychological studies to suggest that extrasensory perception exists. While we accept the community or senses as a factor for clear reception with respect to the clarity of reception provided by any singular, ordinary sense, we are for whatever reason suddenly prone to amnesia when it comes to exploring the extra-sensorium. Here, frustration and discouragement overwhelm us when we learn that, for instance, telepathy is difficult to isolate with any certainty from other senses — or potential extrasenses — in the laboratory setting. When we do manage to fashion experiments that isolate specific psi, we are frustrated and discouraged when the effect, though exceeding chance, is relatively weak. We fail to consider the fact that in their natural environment, so-to-speak, they may complement and be similarly influenced by a community of extrasenses just as ordinary senses are.

Not only that, but we should expect these two distinct sensory systems to influence one another as well, which would certainly serve to complicate matters. Assuming this is the case, it could go some way to explain what many interpret as a failure in parapsychology, which is to say that any detectable effects are prone to being relatively weak in nature. After all, when we take average individuals and subject them to parapsychological studies with rigid controls meant to remove any evidence of sensory (if not other extrasensory) influence, we are in effect removing their given extrasense (telepathy, in this case) from its natural context and placing it in an isolated, alien environment in which it is not only virgin but necessarily abandoned by its typical support system. We should be astounded that parapsychological experiments reveal any psi influence at all.

Perhaps the coupling of mutual eye-gazing, subliminal cold-reading and telepathy could better explain the phenomena experienced as ocular telepathy. It works so well, its effects are so predictable, immediate and intense in comparison to telepathy as it is ordinarily explored, simply because it utilizes the parapsychological in tandem with the psychological and biological.

No doubt a relevant form of training might help discipline our natural ability to conjure such capacities through the Psychic Window Technique, and the literature which I have referenced in quotes in this article already provide some clues as to what training might be optimal. Consider, for instance, the conversation between Mullis and O’Keefe following the incident in which she seemed, according to him, to have tickled his hypothalamus:

“I asked her what the hell she had done to me.

She replied, ‘You’ve been playing with your mind, but you don’t know anything yet. No one has ever properly taught you.’

I was excited. ‘Will you show me how to do that? What you did?’

‘You already know. You just need to practice'” (p 93).

Though Mullis reported that she did indeed teach him to practice, he gave few details, in the end only offering the reader her diagnosis of his condition. “She told me that I had abilities that I hadn’t tapped into and that I had to learn to quiet myself inside,” he wrote. “I had to learn not to think so much.” Though she never said it outright so far has Mullis himself has conveyed, it seems clear to me that she was talking about meditation — something akin to the Theravada and Tibetan Buddhist practices of samatha and vipassana, which cultivate the power of attention.

There was also a detailed practice offered by Koda, however: the aforementioned “The Psychic Window Technique.” He suggests that you and your partner sit down and face one another at a distance of perhaps two to three feet, sure to maintain “open” body language devoid of defensive barriers like crossed arms or legs in the process. Both of you then decide which mutual “side” will hold your attentions when you stare at one another: either you focus your eyes on your partner’s right eye as they focus on your left or vice versa. It is of vital importance, I think, to focus mutual attention on a mutual “side,” as it makes certain you are both focusing on the eye of the other that is focusing on you. This would also make it indistinguishable from samatha meditation.

Once the “side” is established, you both stare into one another’s eyes unwaveringly, without blinking, all the while trying to expand your field of clear perception to encapsulate the entirety of the face: then the weirdness begins…

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.

Centerpoint.

It won’t be that bad.

These are just extremes
for you to push against,
so you might
push away
from them both
at equal distance,

find the right place
dead in the eye
between the counterpoints,

find yourself blooming
in the volatile heart called,
the tension in,
the living spark of

the centerpoint.

Rock sinks,
erodes,
all as waters collide,
kissing deep.
Not a mere
fluid exchange,
no:

intra-psychical
dissolution:
oneness
with oneself.

Polarities tweaked
to maintain healthy balance.

Dualities reconciled.