MY BOOK


After 20 years of research and writing, my book, In Their Right Minds: The Lives and Shared Practices of Poetic Geniuses (2015) Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, is available from the publisher in a very well-made paperback edition. Initially a #1 Hot New Release in Neuropsychology and Poetry/Literary Criticism on Amazon.com, it can also be acquired on Amazon in most countries, either in print, a Kindle edition, or both. If you are interested in consciousness, creativity, poetry, psychology, and/or the paranormal, I think you will find it an illuminating read. You can read the first chapter for free on Amazon!

The Maid of Orleans: The Life & Mysticism of Joan of Arc




This is the sixth book on Joan of Arc that I have now read in preparation for a chapter in a projected book, “Females Mystics and Mediums.” Every book has had its own angle into the heart and mind of Joan.

The Swedish Stolpe, a convert to Catholicism, takes a decidedly religious angle, to the point of comparing Joan’s horrendous death to that of Jesus, a martyrdom both required for the sake of others. There had been a prophecy that a virgin from Lorraine would save France from the invading English. Stolpe says Joan was “extremely well balanced,” denying that her voices and visions were the product of an unstable mind, whether psychotic or epileptic. Importantly, Stolpe does accentuate the troubled times and violence continually inflicted on Joan’s village, a persistent childhood trauma which, to my mind, could call into play dissociative voices trying to alleviate her anxiety through extraordinarily brave, inspired action. Stolpe does note that the sound of church bells brought on Joan's voices. While this may be a sign of epilepsy in other writers’ views, for Stolpe, hearing voices in a solid, sensible girl could only be explained through her pronounced mysticism.

While quite certain about her mysticism, Stolpe is evenhanded in other regards. He does not support many legendary claims, like Joan’s recognizing in a crowded room of courtiers the king, Charles VII, she had come to crown. Stolpe finds this improbable and regularly tries to sort out truth from “the jungle growth of legend” surrounding Joan.

Stolpe sees Joan principally as a “typical mystic,” a calling other biographers have neglected in their accounts. It seems he has entered Joan’s head when he makes statements like, “Now Joan understood.” He also refers to Joan’s “intuition.” I like how Stolphe compares poetic genius to religious genius, which would have been Joan’s mainstay; yet, she never seemed to be in a state of ecstasy like many mystics, as he says. There was something different about her. When bullied by the judges at her trial, without a counsel for her own defense, she gave brilliant answers, a sign that her voices had some kind of genius level ability to provide cunning, non-incriminating answers. While she was a “holy woman,” being used by the “great spirit who deigns to use her as his instrument,” she was not a “military genius.” Rather, Stolpe says, her mere presence gave the French soldiers encouragement to fight.


In the end, Joan’s death, for Stolpe, was not a tragedy, but rather willed by God as “a sacrifice for all the cowardly, the cold-hearted, and the arrogant.” It is quite clear that she had a brave, highly religious heart and the pure mental determination to overthrow the English yoke, by whatever means possible. I suspect one’s own religious or non-religious persuasion will win out in the end when judging her successes. But, decrying the brutal, fiery end of this inspired young woman, from whatever the source, I would think, should be universal.

The Man Who Could Fly: St. Joseph of Copertino and the Mystery of Levitation



Compensation
For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.
For each beloved hour
Sharp pittances of years,
Bitter contested farthings
And coffers heaped with tears.

Emily Dickinson


Michael Grosso, a prodigious and excellent writer, has been studying the far side of consciousness for some time. His online article, “Inspiration, Mediumship, Surrealism: The Concept of Creative Dissociation,” excerpted from Broken Images, Broken Selves (1997), was the first meaningful treatment I encountered on puzzling phenomena of great interest to me both then and now.

Grosso’s The Man Who Could Fly is a full-length treatment of St. Joseph of Copertino, a 17th century priest with the uncanny ability to defy the law of gravity: he could levitate! Grosso has read all the sources pertaining to St. Joseph and goes much further and deeper to explain the saint’s “ecstatic dissociation.” As he says elsewhere, in a more global way, “For anyone interested in probing the mysteries of consciousness, it's the deviations from normal function that open things up. Sleep deprivation, fasting, fatigue, crisis, solitude, near-death, madness, terror, psychoactive drugs, and so on.”

In the case of St. Joseph, he suffered early childhood trauma with an “ungiving, unforgiving” mother; a long childhood illness living in unhygienic conditions; and a large, infected, foul-smelling growth on his backside. He found great consolation in being carried to church, leading to an outsized worship of the Madonna. He compensated further through bodily deprivations like fasting and wearing a hair shirt. His lack of maternal affection, self-mutilations, loneliness, avoidance of women, and all-encompassing devotion to the Madonna produced ecstatic states, telepathy, precognition and a life in the priesthood, where his levitations began.

I believe, along with Grosso, that St. Joseph had a mental organization differing from the norm.  As Grosso says, “a slight verbal or visual association might trigger an involuntary episode of ecstatic rapture.” An associative, rather than logical, linear, mind makes a case for the saint’s enhanced right dominance. He also suffered extreme, alternating emotional states. When he was depressed (right hemispheric), his ecstasies subsided. “Hideous dreams and diabolic imaginings assailed him.” On the other hand, almost anything could prompt an ecstatic reaction, suggesting mania. His eyes turned upward and he recited rap-like rhymes, both left-inspired tendencies. As he lay dying, he felt his heart burning in his chest from love and light, as he dissolved into God, a boundless selflessness, which I have suggested elsewhere, suggests the synchronization of the hemispheres.

Grosso says that Joseph’s ecstasies were sublimations of his “displaced sexual desire.” Suppressing the sexual urge and mortifying his body no doubt allowed a compensatory mechanism to bring immense pleasure of another sort into his life. Likewise, Kraft-Ebbing pronounced in his Psychopathia Sexualis: “Mystical ecstasy is a kind of over-compensation for physical pain.”

Ultimately, Grosso explains mystical experience as kind of stepping out of the body, which can include levitation, allowing pure, “irreducible” consciousness to sally forth unbridled. We will never know the bliss of supreme reality, as long as we “are ‘nailed’ to our bodies.”

Of course, all that I have said is just a bare outline of the depth of Grosso’s research. I highly suggest you engage with the book yourself. Be prepared to expand the borders of your mind for a deeper and wider appreciation of human potential.







The Nature of Consciousness

      
I recently ran across a video of Deepak Chopra interviewing Rupert Spira about the latter’s new book. As reported in my last blog post, I had seen Dr. Chopra, pacing back and forth alone on the stage, proclaiming, “There is only EVERYTHING” and “EVERYTHING is conscious” at the 2016 Science of Consciousness Conference in Tucson, AZ. While I have heard him numerous times before, this earnest message really grabbed my attention. Not coincidentally, Chopra has also written the foreword for Spira’s book, and they are definitely on the same page. Here, Chopra quotes Max Planck, who coined the word “quantum,” saying, “Mind is the matrix of matter.” He also says, “Matter is a derivative from consciousness.” Spira too believes that “reality is pure consciousness.” I can imagine Jung jumping in posthumously to say, “It is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing.” 

      Spira is telling a similar tale: “Time and space, are, in fact, dimensionless awareness refracted through the prism of the finite brain, that is, refracted through thought and perception (26)." But, the “essential nature of mind . . . remains continuously present throughout all its changing knowledge and experience . . . [t]hus, the ultimate science is the science of consciousness (27). But, consciousness is not a “property of the body (29),” it is a “seamless, indivisible, unified infinite whole.” More categorically, he says, “The universe is not conscious; consciousness is the universe (31).” That is, “The universe is consciousness itself: one seamless, indivisible, self-aware whole in which there are no parts, objects, entities or selves (33).”

Spira sets out to explain this conundrum through sheer tenacity, using one overarching example: the movies we watch, with, real, living actors, could not exist without the screen. Likewise, our thoughts, images, feelings, sensations, and memories are fleeting. Pure awareness (the screen), however, stands behind it all, unchanging and irreducible. The body is not aware; only awareness is aware. 
***
In my last post, I described my own experience of “pure” knowing, minus the fleeting sensations of the body. I’ll repeat it here, with a new understanding supplied by Spira:

As I stood still in the Spanish Market of San Antonio, TX, my family at a short distance, I was awash in foreign sounds, sights and smells, as music wafted out of brightly colored Mexican storefronts and restaurants. All of my senses were titillated, except taste. That was to change. At the precise moment when I licked a cold, blue water ice, I entered an altered state of consciousness, with no sensed boundary between my inner and the outer world. With an intensely blissful feeling pouring  from my heart, I saw tiny sparks of light, dotting out infinitely beyond me and time stood still. Light consciousness, indicating a different energetic presence, is regularly reported in altered states of consciousness.


The notion of overloaded senses reminded me of something I had read a long time ago when trying to understand my friend’s “angelic” encounters after her mother died. The book, Talking with Angels (1988 /1992), standing tall, white and wide, on a bookshelf at the Jung Center in Houston, drew me in. Translated from the Hungarian, the book was originally transcribed by Gitta Mallasz, the only survivor of a group of four young people who would later be sent to Nazi concentration camps. She wrote, based on the voices (always in caps, as in James Merrill's and David Jackson's Ouija board dialogues), that “THE HUMAN REJOICES WHEN THE SEVEN SENSES, THE SEVEN SOULS, ACT IN UNISON.” Along with this union of the senses, comes LIGHT-AWARENESS, which is “half-matter, half Glory (391).” How Spira-like! Further, rhythmic poetry became an engine of these voices! Even my friend reported that her voices started to speak in poetic form, even though she was not a fan. I have argued elsewhere that the poetic connection implicates an enhanced right hemisphere (Platt 2007).

In tandem with the angels’ voices, Spira’s theory could explain my pure, borderless, blissful sensation of infinite awareness, the true ground of being, brought about by the simultaneous titillation of all of my senses. Or, turning to neuroscientists, we might say that the sense overload created a momentary synchronization of my cerebral hemispheres, shutting down my body’s boundaries, thus opening me to Oneness with All that is (see Persinger, Ramachandran, Newberg, Conforti).

  
 Rejecting the idea that consciousness studies should be all about brain areas, Spira quotes poets instead, who seem to get it right naturally. Consider the following examples from Spira’s book:
     
 “The poet Tennyson suggested seeking the ultimate nature of the mind as one would follow a ‘sinking star, beyond the utmost reach of human thought (61).”

“Rumi said, ‘I searched for myself and found only God; I searched for God and found only myself (84).”

Spira confirms, “There is only God’s infinite being (90) . . . the only absolute knowledge there is (92)”; along with, “Each of our minds is like an opening through which infinite awareness knows itself in the form of the world (101).”


Wordsworth said, “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting (122).”

Spira returns to Blake’s well-known formulation: “If the doors of perception were cleansed

everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite (112)” and affirms that: “At some point science 

will realize that the universe is not a universe, as such. It will recognize that unlimited 

consciousness is all there is (121).”

     

Spira further states that “Telepathy, synchronicity and intuition 

are all examples of the normal boundaries of the waking state

becoming relaxed and the boundaries between finite minds 

becoming correspondingly looser (139).” Jung’s “collective 

unconscious,” he says, should more properly be called a 

“collective field of consciousness . . . that makes itself known

. . .  through dreams, images, intuitions, and so on (144).”



      
Spira’s thoughts on the sleeping brain also spoke to me: “One could say that when the mind wakes, consciousness sleeps, and when the mind sleeps, consciousness wakes. Of course, consciousness never sleeps; to ‘fall asleep to’ in this context means to ignore its own infinite reality (115).” Several times, in a foreign countries, I have awakened from a deep sleep and experienced a deadly nothingness in my mind. Indeed, Spira later adds, “In deep sleep only a thin veil of nothingness obscures awareness’s knowing of its own unlimited being . . . (135).” Maybe I was a hair’s width away from feeling infinite awareness then.

      I can also relate to this notion from Spira: “In the dream state consciousness has access to a broader segment of its infinite possibilities than it does in the denser, more clearly defined waking state (125).” In 1996, when I was troubled by my friend’s experience, I read a book on dissociative identity disorder. After a brief sleep, I awoke, read some more, then went back to bed. I awoke with my heart palpitating wildly. In my frightening dream, a patient lay rigid on a psychiatrist’s couch. With his eyes rolling in his head and his mouth lit up like a neon “O,” he shouted in a Darth Vader -like voice: “Freud only got it half right; Read the two Hyperion poems.” This dual-pronged key led me to Jung and Keats and a nearly 20-year study of poets and neuroscience. Did infinite awareness bring that all-important message to me?


Furthermore, the cover for my resulting book came to me as a hypnopompic image as I awoke one morning.


***

      One last thing in Spira’s work especially spoke to me. He says that “in a relaxed waking state, an intuition or a deep sense of connection between people, animals and objects” can occur (126). Indeed, sitting quietly on a park bench at the University of Pennsylvania, I noticed a student  crossing my path nearby. I was jolted by an intuition that I would marry him. Much like Jung, who recognized Emma as the woman he would marry when she was only 13, I did the same at 18. I can only surmise that my momentarily relaxed, "infinitely aware" mind recognized my husband from the future. We have been happily married since we were 23! 


Seeing the Light, Speaking like a Poet: Alain Forget and Other Mystical Experiencers


At the 2016 Science of Consciousness Conference in Tucson, I saw a presentation by Dr. Peter Fenwick, an NDE researcher at Cambridge. Dr. Fenwick had been studying the French mystic, Alain Forget. Fenwick's visuals showed observable globules of light floating around the room, as Forget taught meditation to his students. As I said in my last post, light phenomena are known to be associated with both death and mystical experiences. But Forget also has the ability to give light to his students who feel it as an energy opening their hearts, according to Fenwick.

Hyperscanning of Forget’s brain and a student showed very high gamma waves in the left posterior area of the brain and beta waves spreading out from the temporal lobes.  High gamma indicates heightened perception and beta indicates normal awake alertness. Fenwick said Forget was clearly driving the student’s brain. However, if Forget wore goggles, the light connection failed, showing the effect had something to do with his eyes.

Fenwick is not alone in his endeavor to understand light phenomena. After the presentation, a young researcher from Michael Persinger’s Canadian lab came to the microphone saying her boss was doing studies on light transfer as well. An Indian man also came forward, claiming such non-local events can be produced even at great physical distances.

In 1996, Dr. Fenwick wrote a book, The Truth in the Light, about people being enveloped in light and seeing beautiful colors, encountering a presence, hearing a voice, or encountering visible “spirits” during Near Death Experiences (NDEs). During this Tucson presentation, he said experiencers have no privileged age range; religious belief is not important; they see beautiful landscapes and hear heavenly music with high “emotional quality” showing “strong involvement of the right hemisphere.” The NDErs mostly see relatives, even if they didn’t know they were dead, and always in their prime. Sometimes, a “Being of Light” sends the experiencer back to life through a tunnel.

Fenwick mentioned that Forget had written a book, How to Get Out of This World Alive, which I have now read. Fenwick says in his foreword: “Alain Forget is one of the leaders of a new wave of philosophers who, through working on themselves, using the tools bequeathed to us by the ancient Masters, have achieved a breakthrough in his experience of consciousness (14).” You can see Forget being interviewed by the patient and curious Iain McVay on Conscious.tv. Forget presents as a quite self-assured individual who has studied with great masters and read the works of mystics past.

Forget had his first mystical experience as a young man of 25 while sitting in Chartres Cathedral. Going to sacred places to read metaphysical texts and meditate silently was his practice. On this occasion, awakened by the notion that he was not his thoughts or emotions, Forget became “one with life and free of fear.” He claimed, in a Jungian way, he had dismantled his shadow and opened up his soul. With thought and desires gone, light appeared. He could now help others attain “a state of consciousness that transcends time and space and transmit energy that has a power to accelerate their evolution (17).” Another mystical event at 39 removed all thought and further awakened him to the need to drill into his/our repressed layers and develop a body of energy, that is, of light. Forget claimed he could turn his energetic state on or off at will to operate in the world.

Coincident with my study on  poets, Evelyn Underhill, in her 1911 classic, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, claimed that visionaries, poets and saints find the “reality behind the veil (4).” This singular reality is Absolute: senses are “fused into a single and ineffable act of perception, and colour and sound are known as aspects of one thing (7).” By altering their consciousness, they “apprehend a deeper reality . . . unrelated to human speech,” which can only be expressed as poetry (31).  “‘How glorious,’ says the Voice of the Eternal to St. Catherine of Siena, ‘is that soul which has indeed been able to pass from the stormy ocean to Me, the Sea Pacific, and in that Sea, which is Myself, to fill the pitcher of her heart (37).’” Underhill showed that with light and heart entwined, union with “the One” becomes an “ineffable illumination of pure love (41).” St. Augustine too saw “the light that never changes” with the “mysterious eye of the soul,” as “primarily a movement of the heart.”

Here, Underhill is particularly clear about the unconscious aspect of creativity:

In the poet, the musician, the great mathematician or inventor, powers lying below the threshold, and hardly controllable by their owner’s conscious will, clearly take a major part in the business of perception and conception. In all creative acts, the larger share of the work is done subconsciously: its emergence is in a sense automatic. This is equally true of mystics, artists, philosophers, discoverers, and rulers of men. The great religion, invention, work of art, always owes inception to some sudden uprush of intuitions or ideas for which the superficial self cannot account . . . this is ‘inspiration’; the opening of the sluices, so that those waters of truth in which all life is bathed may rise to the level of consciousness . . . behind the world of sense (63).

She was also very poetic herself:

“[The self] has, it seems, certain tentacles which, once she learns to uncurl them, will stretch sensitive fingers far beyond that limiting envelope in which her normal consciousness is contained, and give her news of a higher reality than that which can be deduced from the reports of the senses. The fully developed and completely conscious human soul can open as an anemone does, and know the ocean in which she is bathed. This act, this condition of consciousness, in which barriers are obliterated, the Absolute flows in on us, and we, rushing out to its embrace, “find and feel the Infinite above all reason and above all knowledge,” is the true “mystical state (51).”


Underhill says mysticism is a dissociative state of consciousness that can be attained through self-hypnosis, dancing, music or other exaggerations of natural rhythm, as Persinger has suggested. It can also happen inadvertently, as I  experienced myself on that wonderful day in San Antonio, TX. With thoughts and sensations gone, all that remained was a brief dip into the borderless bliss of Nirvana.



But, as with poets, mystics did not only experience bliss. Sometimes they were plunged into the so-called “dark night of the soul.” In both cases this would seem to indicate bipolar disorder, with a switch between negative right and positive left voices and visions, sometimes accompanied by a sudden inability to read (393). Some mystics, of course, were illiterate to begin with, like Joan of Arc. I'm looking forward to reading Mark Twain's well-documented version of her story.


Underhill’s female saints often used food deprivation to attain ecstatic states. Mechthild of Magdeburg, a 13th century saint who wrote "The Flaming Light of the Godhead," and Catherine of Siena, whose only food was the communion host, are two examples. Beyond starvation, Underhill emphasized that "reality present[ed] itself to them under abnormal conditions . . . [t]hanks to their peculiar mental make up," citing Mme Guyon and St. Teresa along with William Blake in 'Milton' and 'Jerusalem.'" The very tenor and tone of mystical language, she added, "no less than musical and poetic perception, tends naturally . . . to present itself in rhythmical periods: a feature which is also strongly marked in writings obtained in the automatic state (80)." Mystics must have "a nervous organization of the artistic type (91)." She also identified their ability to feel a sense of presence long before Persinger’s studies (242). Finally, "Over and over again they return to light-imagery (249)."


In my book, I call this "nervous organization" an enhanced right hemisphere, where language is either right dominant or bilateral, regardless of handedness. Illumination, so-called because mystical knowledge and light come to the fore, occurs following synchronization of the hemispheres and may involve a sense of presence. St. Teresa sensed the presence of Jesus on her right side, but saw a vision of a small male angel on her left side, who thrust a long spear of gold into her heart and entrails, leaving her "on fire with a great love of God (295)." The left hemisphere offered the image of Jesus, while the angel from the right tortured her into ecstasy.

In both poets and mystics, we see a common thread: early childhood trauma, atypical lateralization, voracious reading habits in search of high significance, deprivations, difficulties, mental exhaustion, with verbal expression sometimes produced in dissociative states of consciousness. Alain Forget, despite his assured countenance, is no exception. He was an only child who lost his mother at 18 months and his father at 9 years old. Watching him speak in the interview, we see him favoring his left hand, then his right, but mostly using both at once. He has a long straight brow line more to the left, showing enhanced right dominance. His ease of entering mystical states is in itself a prime qualification for an atypical mind.

Why does Forget call his book, How to Get Out of This Life Alive? He says from the very start that “As long as there is death, there is fear. / Only victory over death will make fear die (3).” The method of attaining this victory is through the Four D’s: Distancing, Discernment, Disidentification and Discrimination. As Dr. Fenwick describes the process in his introduction to the book, this requires a dismantling of the ego through attentiveness, introspection, letting go, and deep self-questioning. In Forget’s words, practicing the Four D’s allows you to transcend the world of  “polar opposites” (conscious/unconscious) to become pure consciousness (20).


Forget says the shadow begins with birth trauma, as we leave the undifferentiated state in the maternal womb. He adds on the negative effect of early traumatic experience on the developing brain, just as Allan N. Schore did in Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. As I found in my poets, loss of a parent, parental attachment issues and/or a genetic predisposition to emotional disorder can alter the brain. Dissociative selves arise from painful experiences. Forget claims that by overcompensating for pains inflicted, we trigger anxiety. What is his simple formula for overcoming the darkness? Focusing on three separate sensory fields at once, for instance, the feeling of your feet on the ground, the sound of birds in the trees, the sight of a tree, can help detach you from fearful thoughts and feelings.

Forget also recommends 1) a regular practice of silence—30 minutes on an empty stomach each day; 2) balancing one’s masculine side (left brain) and feminine side (the creative and intuitive aspects of the right brain, as he puts it); 3) as you let go of anxiety,  you sense that psychological time is an illusion; bad behavior patterns dissolve and you now feel consciousness as energy (69). Letting go of the gods of yore, you can perceive them rather as quantum, magnetic, electromagnetic and electrochemical fields. Consciousness has evolved into an energetic state.

“We are all a mixture of light and dark," he says (153). By dismantling the shadow, you “transmute it bit by bit into a body of light (145).” Can anyone develop a soul, a body of light? Categorically, no: 


“When you come into this world, you have the potential to crystallize a diamond to get out of it alive. It is up to you to develop it. If the day you die, this crystallisation has not gained sufficient substance, everything will dissolve in the collective unconscious. But when your soul reaches a certain power level, you leave the archetypes of this planet behind and your psychic destiny becomes cosmic (150).”