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!

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).”