Consciousness in Action: The Power of Beauty, Love and Courage in a Violent Time by Andrew Beath




Anomalous Phenomena
By John Mack

This article is an excerpt from Andrew Beath’s book Consciousness In Action: the Power of Beauty, Love and Courage in a Violent Time (Lantern Press, 2005)

Introduction by Andrew Beath

Most of us are not comfortable with phenomena that can’t be readily explained according to prevailing beliefs. We know that extraordinary events are happening that we are not able to comprehend. For example, crop circles are a phenomenon that has been well documented but poorly explained. And the fact that the media attributes them to hoaxers, which is highly unlikely for the most intricate ones, has meant that they receive little news coverage—so they don’t have the opportunity to work their potentially transformative magic on the minds of the world culture. The vast majority of people dismiss the inexplicable when it falls outside their perceptual filters of reality.

Believing in a particular explanation of such things as crop circles and other spirit-matter mysteries is often confining because it eliminates other possibilities. However, it seems important to recognize the dramatic impact on our consensual view of reality that opening to all possible explanations, and fully examining such baffling phenomena, could have. To the extent that we expand our public discourse and our understanding of these anomalies, they could help to catalyze the shift in cultural consciousness that is needed to change public behavior toward greater protection of the environment and kindness to each other.

Alien abduction experiences are an even more controversial subject than crop circles, but one that has received extensive attention from Harvard professor and psychiatrist Dr. John Mack. From my perspective they can be interpreted in a variety of ways—aliens could be seen as extraterrestrial entities, or an inter-dimensional phenomenon. The latter might result in interpretations of inexplicable events in familiar terms, like spaceships. But the occurrences may also be beyond our capacity to explain. At this early stage of human development we are perceptually limited in attempting to elucidate the meaning of most mystical phenomena.

Once someone is sure of a particular answer, then the remaining hundreds of possibilities disappear for that person, and some of the magic too. Consider the level of understanding of physical sciences five hundred years ago in the time of Columbus’s flat world. Also think of the increased knowledge we’ll have 500 years in the future, if we become sensible enough to survive. If we don’t, then perhaps it will be some other species that will have the chance to contemplate the awe of creation with the gift of reflective consciousness. Or maybe the Earth—like Mars—will become arid and unable to provide that opportunity again.

Dr. John Mack founded the psychiatry department at Cambridge Hospital. A Pulitzer Prize-winning author, he is also a founder of the Center for Psychology and Social Change, a psychological / scientific research group that specializes in studying transpersonal experiences and other anomalous phenomena.

Until his recent death John was a cutting-edge intellectual and a prominent psychiatrist who, as a member of Physicians For Social Responsibility, was a joint recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. His recent focus has been on human perception, with an overarching concern for healing planetary ills.

Dr. Mack’s intellectual curiosity has involved him with numerous clients who perceive themselves to have been abducted by aliens. He refers to them as “experiencers,” and his work with this group has, among other benefits, provided valuable material with which to study the mechanisms of consensual reality.

In one of his books on the subject of alien abductions, Passport to the Cosmos, there remains an open question of whether or not the spaceships and alien beings exist in the normal physical sense. At the same time it’s clear that there is an unexplainable phenomenon going on that is important for our understanding of the universe. Maintaining a “don’t know mind” is an ally in this work. No matter what the results, John’s on-the-edge research and thinking is of utmost importance in pushing the envelope of human consciousness.

Dr. Mack has been involved in activism and social change for 30 years. He was arrested at the Nevada nuclear test site in 1986, 1988 and 1989. In 1986 his whole family got arrested, including his children and wife, Sally, along with 149 other people. Shortly after that time Gorbachev unilaterally broke the cycle of nuclear weapons buildup. I asked John to talk about this period and about the potential role of anomalous experiences in creating social change. In our conversations he told me:

"Gorbachev’s decision exposed the incredible stupidity of the arms race. I think we need a way of using the word stupid in a non-judgmental sense. I’m using it as a technical term here. A better word might be senseless. Stupid means you have the facts and should know what you’re doing but are acting without judgment or wisdom. You’re so driven by your anger, your hatred or nationalist fervor that you act in a way that is destructive to the planet. That is stupid.

I’ve also used the term malignant professionalism to denote narrowly focused expertise divorced from a larger responsible perspective. The pollution of the oceans is a perfect example of this kind of confusion. It’s the most fundamental ecological issue we have, and it comes from our having lost touch with the fact that life came from the ocean. By polluting it we’re actually poisoning our well.

The difference now from even a few decades ago is that the problems are global. So activism now needs to be global. Consider the international waters. The ocean connects us. It’s a no-brainer to know that the ocean goes the world over, so if you pollute it here, you pollute it everywhere. That’s an example of a global project. You need a global awareness to fit that kind of a project. Here we get into a tricky but fundamentally important relationship. First we need methods for evolving consensual reality. Then we need strategies to apply that expanded awareness and implement change.

This brings us to the work of the Center for Psychology and Social Change. We seek to better understand anomalous experiences that can shift the sense of isolation and subject/object separation that are characteristic of the Western mind. There are a variety of extraordinary experiences that can break through cultural conditioning and confer a greater sense of connectedness with life: psychedelics have the potential to create a lasting shift of this type, as do shamanic ceremonies. Many people who have had a near-death experience return with a heightened sense of compassion and the desire to make a difference.

The least understood of these types of experiences is the alien abduction phenomenon. What such encounters with the unknown have in common is that they can dissolve our anxieties about the superficial differences between people and bring forth a felt sense of our common humanity, our interdependence with all of creation and our place as an integral part of an all-encompassing whole.

Atypical experiences tend to crack us open and break down ethno-national stereotypes. Solving our collective problems then becomes a shared responsibility that we accept as global citizens. We no longer make someone else responsible because we recognize the whole represented in us and act for the benefit of this integrity. This paradigm shift is the one from which major social change can happen. When we recognize that we live from the ocean, and that the earth is a living organism of which we are each an integral part, then large-scale destructive behaviors become intolerable.

Anomalous Experiences and Social Activism

It’s interesting the way things come along and you don’t see how they are going to be part of your pathway, yet they turn out to be precisely that. More and more I see now how this work with anomalous experiences fits into the social activism arena that was my primary focus. If you or someone you know has an intense experience, the truth of which is undeniable, and it challenges consensual reality, then it causes you to undergo an expansion of consciousness. And this contributes to the expansion of the collective perception of reality.

So for me, working with experiencers of the abduction phenomenon was a huge opening around consensual reality. This work began after my holotropic breath-work and other transformative experiences. It showed me a universe that was completely different from the one I had been used to. Either the people reporting the abductions were psychiatric cases, which they clearly were not, or the prevailing worldview was inadequate.

Since I trusted my clinical judgment more than the prevailing worldview, it opened me to the awareness that the universe has many forms of intelligent beings besides us. We are one of these beings, and we are connected with all kinds of creatures and intelligence, and spirits, animate as well as inanimate.

It’s the old hero’s journey in the sense that the traveler in these transpersonal realms of expanded consciousness goes out and then comes back and says, “You know, we’ve seen another universe,” or “We’ve seen the universe is far more vast in terms of its dimensionality. There are not only lots of galaxies but there are many dimensions. It’s alive! It’s sacred!” When they return from their journey, they bring that awareness to lecture audiences and films, or whatever they do, and it enters the popular culture and expands awareness exponentially.

In his Letters to a Young Poet there’s a passage where Rilke is speaking about the relationship between poetry and spirituality. This was written in the early years of the twentieth century, when the rational faculties had become dominant and were being used to intellectualize about God and spirit, as they still are. Rilke put it this way: “…the experiences that are called ‘visions,’ the whole so-called ‘spirit-world,’ death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out of life that the senses by which we could have grasped them are atrophied. To say nothing of God.”

One of the benefits of working with anomalous experiences is that it reverses this atrophy and reanimates the senses so that they can directly experience transcendent reality. For me, that’s the most critical cutting edge. I began to think about what a science of knowing the sacred would be like. Since we cannot replicate people’s experiences of abductions or of luminous, transpersonal realms, we must use our professional understanding and intuition to assess the reliability of one who reports such an experience. The objective is to be as rigorous, precise and reliable as possible in understanding these phenomena.

So, for instance, listen to someone like Dr. Veronica Goodchild, who has had several anomalous experiences involving strange luminosity, loss of memory and loss of blocks of time. She teaches graduate psychology courses to Ph.D. candidates and authored the book Eros and Chaos. If you are skilled at really hearing people, you will have an immediate sense that this is someone whose words you can trust. But what is that trust-inducing quality? What are the essential elements that make a believable witness?

I’m trying to develop a set of principles to help to determine who can be trusted as an authentic witness. When one meets someone like Veronica, one can say, “This person can’t be lying. This person appears to me to be normal, healthy, wise, and spiritually advanced. She has witnessed something that attests to a reality beyond what we normally allow could be true.”

I’m also interested in how we determine the reliability of a witness who does not already have an established reputation for credibility. I think that we’re talking about a mixture of qualities in these people that we can intuit, as well as applying professional criteria. One quality is a sense that the person has been touched by the divine or by something beyond what we know to be our normal reality. Then there is the objective assessment that professionals can make by observing an individual’s behavior to determine the soundness of their mind and the purity of their motives in order to be able to tell that they are not self-serving.

Witnesses who meet these standards become powerful agents for the expansion of other people’s sense of reality. When you present them appropriately to various audiences, and then bring up relevant social issues in the new context that their experiences create, the listeners may be deeply moved and inspired to create social change.

Because the spokesperson is a reliable Witness, what he or she has to say becomes a sacred communication that others can take seriously. For example, I made a film of the children in Africa who have been recorded talking about their UFO encounter. Those children would say that the beings communicated to them through their eyes or from mind to mind that “We are not taking proper care of the planet.” That was the communication and virtually everyone who hears it is affected by it. Nobody seems to question that those children are trustworthy, reliable Witnesses.

Whether or not there were UFOs is actually secondary in my mind to what the perceived aliens are telling the children. It’s not the aliens per se that counts; it’s the message that these children have taken in and brought to others. But how do we legitimize aliens as authorities? It can only be through the reliability of the people who experience them and the value of the message they convey.

My role in a sense has been to legitimize the Witnesses – to be a witness to the Witnesses. I describe myself as a secondary witness. Then there are the people in the audience who come to the lecture to hear both the direct Witness and the secondary witness. They are the third-level witnesses. The fourth-level witness is the society at large. It’s this fourth level that we’re trying to reach. Each level has an important role to play. The primary witness has the actual direct experience of the divine, or some other type of anomalous event, and then comes back with a new truth. Secondary witnesses are, like you and me, the vehicles for bringing them forth. The third level is the people who come to hear us, and the fourth is the whole culture. That’s a possible structure.

Defining Reality

Even some kinds of psychotherapy can give us this expansion of understanding and compassion. It depends on the type of therapy and the consciousness of the therapist. Some can create a kind of transformative field in which an altered state may occur.

What do we mean by reality, anyway? How do we define it? Are we content to have reality be only that which we can prove physically? Or are there realities beyond our personal experiences that have been perceived by credible Witnesses and are therefore likely to have validity? In my research, we are interested in the epistemological elements of the question and are also interested in the expanded notions of reality. This exploration itself helps to expand consensual reality.

There are a lot of people interested in the physical hardware of UFO spacecraft, in proving their physical existence with photos and other literal evidence. This group wanted me to legitimize aliens as a three-dimensional, scientific reality, and I wasn’t focused on that. I was interested in developing a methodology and an epistemology that would apply both to understanding inter-dimensional experiences and expanding our perception of reality. That’s a different way of knowing than they’re interested in. So it disappointed the UFO nuts-and-bolts people that I didn’t give legitimacy to their hunger for scientific acceptance.

Chaos, Categories and Vibrational Multiplicity

The main thing that the human mind, or brain, does is to make categories. We navigate through the chaos of vibrational multiplicity by creating categories so we can find our way. And one of those dominant types of categorization is “dualistic dichotomies”: yes /no, opposites, real or unreal. It’s physical or it’s not physical. It’s objective or it’s subjective.

We have a predilection for creating either/or categorizations. But there is no reason why something couldn’t go from gray to black or gray to white. By the same token, in terms of being physically real or not, it could be partly physical and then fade, or transform, into being non-physical. It could be ethereal. And I think that probably Sanskrit, Tibetan, and other languages do a better job with that than English, which insists on opposites without words for in-between states.

Yet, when you’re in a transcendent state the difference between outside and inside dissolves. In other words the barriers that separate categories tend to fall apart because these categories are simply conveniences that the mind has created for navigation. So when you’re in a holistic or holotropic state, they don’t hold up. The dichotomy we’re concerned about here is whether something is objectively, physically real, or not, and that distinction breaks down, too.

Expanded Reality

We’re only 200 years since they couldn’t believe that meteorites came from the sky. It was thought to be physically impossible that there could be pieces of metal coming from the heavens. So when a meteorite would hit the earth, somebody would try to prove that it was a piece that broke off of a mountain.

I have no question that this expanded reality, insofar as it is able to impact the culture, would positively affect the problems. The social implications of this are easy to see. What’s not easy is how to take that into the social activist world. It’s a no-brainer to know that if you break down the barriers and thereby crack open our Western mind, as I call it, then you open to the awareness that we humans, the sea, and the trees are all one sacred unit. Knowing this, you can’t pollute the ocean.

The challenge is to take that expanded awareness and bring about a larger social impact, over and above the people to whom the experiences have occurred. Our problems have come from the misperception that we are separate. You can only destroy something that is separate from yourself.



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