experience


When I was young I had a traumatic experience. And no, I’m not going to talk about it here because it’s my experience and deeply personal. I kept it to myself for three decades until after years of therapy I finally built up enough trust to speak of it. This was not a repressed memory, it was one I had always had, I just didn’t tell anyone about it because of a toxic mix of shame and fear. After telling my therapist, I told the people I was closest to and they helped me heal, but I’m done talking about it. Because if I am allowed to speak of it if I want to, to whomever I choose, then I am surely allowed to keep silent about it.

I only bring it up now because I want to talk about false memory syndrome. You see, there are things about my traumatic event that I know absolutely happened. But the tricky part is, there are other things surrounding this event that I know absolutely never happened. The insidious part is, in my mind and in my spirit, when those images and memories pop up, they are as real as the stuff that really did happen, even though I’ve proven to myself they are false. Because I’ve lived with this for a long time, when they pop up I can tell them firmly, “You’re not real.” I try to “gray them out” in my mind’s eye—but I accept that they will be there for as long as I live. Or at least until this current configuration of my brain exists.

It’s pathetically easy to plant false memories into almost anyone’s mind. The younger a person is when the attempt is made, the stronger and more tenacious the false memory will be—but even adults are not immune to false memory creation.

I hate it. It calls everything I’ve ever experienced into question. That’s why, whenever I have an incident, I go over it again and again, obsessively. I return to the place where it happened to make sure I was seeing the terrain correctly. If possible, I call in other people to either verify or deny, confirm or shrug helplessly. I pick everything apart, endlessly.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more accepting. I accept that the human mind has more in common with a hall of mirrors than a straight look into a glass. As far as I know, I only have the one false memory—but that’s the tricky part about them, isn’t it? Still, I try not to live in denial of all my experiences because that way lies madness. These days I accept, verify if possible, and move on.

Yes, I know I’ve spoken of having a number of extraordinary experiences, and admitting to having even one false memory calls them all into question, even to myself. Fortunately, I’ve had a number of these experiences in the company of others, or confirmed by others outside my own head, or confirmed by subsequent events, to know that sometimes weird stuff just happens to me.

But there will always be that niggling kernel of doubt, that gray area in my mind and spirit, that says this happened when it most assuredly did not. It’s a peculiar agony. It’s also my hedge against being a true believer in anything. Or anyone. I have yet to figure out if that’s a tragedy or a fail safe.

I was having a very interesting conversation over on Dreamwidth with my friend notasupervillain in the Comments section of my last Musings post (July 24, 2019). It grew into a post-long exchange. I have taken my part of the conversation and reproduced it here, cleaned it up, and expanded a bit. I’ve left the original exchange as is in the Dreamwidth Comments.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not young enough to be absolutely certain I know the truth. The shades of grey multiply with each year. But that’s okay. The things that are important are beyond those kinds of thought processes. We can feel around their edges, if we try real hard and remember they’re always changing shape anyway.

—from my original Musings post of July 24

I’ve known many truths, but they keep shifting as time passes. So, I’ve stopped trying to hold onto them and I certainly don’t try to convince anyone of their validity. Not like I used to when I was young. Whatever works for as long as it works.

This shiftingness of truth applies even to (or especially to) religious faith. I’ve long maintained that faith is experiential, not received wisdom. I don’t reject received wisdom out of hand—often it is quite valuable—but if all you have is that received wisdom, faith is never going to withstand the rigors of living. Once you’ve crossed that boundary of experience, though, faith has the ability to adapt and change. If you let it. Some people are so wedded to a single interpretation of spiritual experience they can’t see beyond it and try bending all of life to their rigid mold…until it breaks. Adapt or die.

I’ve never been religious, but I consider myself spiritual. That spirituality is fostered and sustained by numerous experiences I’ve had that convince me there is something in the universe besides materiality. Some of these experiences I’ve had alone, some with others, some have been creepy, some have given me great comfort. But they are the basis of my faith.

Now, because I am who I am and always questioning, I’ve long-since reconciled myself to the fact that they may be illusion, “mistaken identity,” brain chemistry, etc., etc. As I have more and more experiences, though, it gets harder to deny that something weird is going on. But I try to stay flexible with it, not confine it. I let it seep inside me, grow and change—I stay mindful.

If I was a strict Baptist or a Catholic, for instance (and as I understand it from some strict Baptists and Catholics of my acquaintance), I might have to consider some of these experiences as manifestations of the devil (because they believe all ghosts and other things are evil spirits trying to fool us into thinking we’ve been contacted by our deceased loved ones, etc., etc. ad nauseam). If I believed there was one God who was just and righteous and ruled over everything, I might ask myself, “So why did He allow the Holocaust to happen?” and it might shatter (or at least erode) my faith.

But the one thing that I know absolutely is that I don’t know what rules the universe. It may be nothing, it may be a lot of somethings, it may be one something in many aspects, it may be something I can’t even conceive of in with my limited human POV. I don’t even know if it’s a just universe. I know what I feel and what I’ve come to believe, but that hardly constitutes proof that someone else can take to the bank of faith. All I can really count on are my experiences, not the received wisdom of a religion or religions—which are always filtered through limited human perception anyway. That wisdom may point me down a path, but I am always going to have to be the one who walks that path and decides for myself what I see. Those experiences are not something you can hand off to someone and say, “Here, this happened to me so you should believe as I do.” If they haven’t had their own experiences, it’s not going to stick. But that hasn’t stopped many people trying to do just that through the centuries.

I know that I do not know, and I have my experiences, which allow me to feel comforted—if not always comfortable—in the midst of a vast uncertainty. They allow me to adapt and change, and to keep seeking answers, following paths, being surprised when new things occur to me that I hadn’t considered before, and moving forward.

Random quote of the day:

“The law is simple. Every experience is repeated or suffered till you experience it properly and fully the first time.”

—Ben Okri, Astonishing the Gods

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Laurel and Hardy, Ariana Grande, or the Salvation Army Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Let the hard things in life break you. Let them effect you. Let them change you. Let these hard moments inform you. Let this pain be your teacher. The experiences of your life are trying to tell you something about yourself. Don’t cop out on that. Don’t run away and hide under your covers. Lean into it.”

—attributed to Pema Chödrön

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Laurel and Hardy, Ariana Grande, or the Salvation Army Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

I was reading an article in the September 2018 issue of Fortean Times (FT370) called “Strange Stories from Southport”—a seaside town in Merseyside, roughly 20 miles north of Liverpool. Most of the stories in this article dealt with sightings of the Old Man of Halsall Moss—an old, possibly drunken, man in antique farmers clothes who is often seen staggering beside the road by passing motorists only to suddenly disappear.

Other people traveling the solitary places around Southport have had timeslips or momentarily driven through a changed landscape. One mother and son experienced a nighttime landscape beneath a crescent moon showering luminous arcs of light down upon the open fields. The streetlights on either side of the road echoed these luminous arcs, as did the headlights of the cars coming from the opposite direction. They passed a car with two ladies inside but when the mother looked in the rearview mirror, the car had completely disappeared, although there was no turn off anywhere nearby. When they returned home by this same road about three hours later, there were no arcs of light and, furthermore, they realized that the streetlights weren’t on either side of the road as they had originally perceived them, but went straight down the middle. They also realized that the crescent moon arcing light had been to the north of them instead of traveling its usual east to west.

Stories like this are a great comfort to me because I’ve had my own impossible sightings, when a mundane trip down a familiar road can turn suddenly…other. Even though I’m certain of what I saw and was fully awake in broad daylight, knowing that you have experienced something you just could not have experienced is deeply unsettling. You gnaw on it for the rest of your life, you return to it again and again, asking yourself how it could have been. And not infrequently, you (I) question your (my) sanity.

But when I read about other normal people seeing scrambled realities I can tell myself that sometimes weird stuff just happens.

Some time back my friends and I were having interesting discussions about timeslips and other warps in reality, sharing personal experiences of our own and of our friends. The next day I received the (then) latest Fortean Times (February 2017, FT 350) which had an article by Jenny Randles (“Timelessness”) on “time travel, close encounters and other ripples in reality.” Being the good Jungian that I am, I recognized a synchronicity and started working on a post—which, alas, got buried by busyness in other areas.

My friend, L. (I have four friends with the first initial of L), told me of a strange encounter she and her then-boyfriend had when camping at a remote site in the Santa Rosa Mountains of California. As they drove along the lonely highway, they came up behind an old jalopy of a truck going slowly up the mountain. It was loaded with people riding in its bed and even though they spent considerable time behind the truck because the road was too narrow for safe passing, the only person in the vehicle who acknowledged their presence was an old guy who stared and laughed and grinned in a kooky kind of way that L. found quite unnerving.

The truck continued up the mountainside, but eventually L. and her boyfriend turned off at the campground. Their car was the only one in the small parking lot in the middle of nowhere. They unloaded their gear and hiked into the remote campsite. When they got there, two women sat on one of the campground picnic tables looking at a fire on a distant range. They didn’t seem unfriendly. They smiled and said something neither L. nor her boyfriend could understand and pointed to the smoke they were watching. Again, L. felt unnerved, but she put it down to having read too much Casteneda. She and her boyfriend hiked into the woods to set up camp but when they next looked at the picnic table, the women were gone. As the night progressed, a feeling of oppression overcame L., like something wanted them gone. She felt as if she was being closed in upon, watched. L. turned to her boyfriend and said, “I think we should leave. Now.” “I think you’re right,” he said. He’d been feeling the same thing. It was the middle of the night, but they packed up in a hurry and left.

Ms. Randles speaks of the “Oz factor” often preceding odd experiences, wherein, for example, a busy road or room suddenly becomes profoundly quiet as the state of consciousness of the percipient changes. Simon Young, writing in FT362 (January 2018—“Introducing the Fairy Census 2014-2017”) says that there are a significant number of these experiences “while people are driving or travelling in a car” or stopped at lay-bys. He also speaks of a profound silence often accompanying this otherness.

In the case of a friend of a friend (another L.), when he was a teen, he was traveling down Roosevelt Boulevard in St. Petersburg, Florida in a car driven by his mother. The road was surrounded by fields and palm scrub, and as he gazed out the window, he was no longer in the car, which had completely disappeared. He was riding a horse and felt certain that he was an Indian. This went on for several minutes before he returned just as suddenly to the car.

Many years later, he decided to teach himself how to drive a stick shift so he borrowed his wife’s car and headed for this selfsame Roosevelt Boulevard because he knew he could drive to the end of it without getting in the way of too many other drivers. The boulevard dead-ended at some piney woods, so he headed in that direction. By the time he got there, it was dark and he came upon a stop sign that he didn’t remember ever seeing before. Not only that, instead of piney woods, the boulevard ended at a T-intersection. He also didn’t remember a road crossing there before, but as it was dark and he was uncertain where it led, he elected to turn around to go back the way he’d come rather than exploring the road. But he was curious, so he drove back the next day in the daylight. There was no stop sign and no road. He and his wife found an old map of the area and on that map, the road he had seen that night clearly appeared. They looked into it and discovered that the road had been created to service a housing development that had never come to pass because of environmental concerns. Even more curious, although the map had shown the road in anticipation of the housing development being built, the road had never actually been constructed. He’s very glad he decided not to drive down that road.

But it’s not just friends and friends of friends…

In December 1992, I gathered some of my loved ones together for our annual Christmas dinner. In the middle of the festivities when everyone was telling stories and laughing, my world came to a standstill. I’ve tried to describe this sensation before and that’s as close as I can come. I was sitting in that room, but outside of it, too. I saw everyone talking, but couldn’t hear them anymore. Inside of me everything had gone completely still, the kind of silence and stillness I’ve never felt before or since. I heard a voice. My impression is that it was deep, but I can’t be sure anymore and I can’t be certain whether it was male or female, but it was a voice of great conviction. It said, “This is the last Christmas you will all spend together like this.” With those words came the utter conviction that one of us would die before the next Christmas. I didn’t know who, but I suspected it was one of my parents. Then it was like the bubble burst and I was back in the room just as before, only trying hard to pretend nothing had happened, to deny what had happened. I told no one about this experience lest they think I was crazy. October rolled around and no one had died so I began to think it was ridiculous. So I finally told someone, my oldest friend, L., and we had a good laugh over my lunacy. Two days later, my father collapsed with an aortal aneurysm and passed away.

For oh so many reasons, my world was never the same after that. As Ms. Randles says, “we scramble to make sense of the scattered fragments of reality and reconstruct the world in a linear way.” It took some work to reconstruct things, but I never returned—didn’t want to return—to the same old linear narrative I’d been living. As Emily Dickinson once said, “Tell the truth, but tell it slant.” She was speaking of the artifice of art, but for me it means that the truth of reality is slant. Or as Simon Young says, “…an inconvenient fact slapping you hard in the face: reality is not as you thought.” Unless we live on the north or south poles, all of us are walking sideways on a globe, held there by gravity. But our brains can’t deal with this version of reality, so we create a level and flat plain, a straight-on world that doesn’t exist. I see the Other as something similar, something that exists alongside us, that we catch momentary glimpses of before our brains wrench us back into our more comfortable time and space.

I have also had my own “seeing things I couldn’t have seen while driving” experience. You can read about it here. (Note: I’ve just realized, looking back at that old post, that it happened the year my mother had her stroke and everything changed utterly for me. Not only that, I wrote the post no more than a week or two before my mother’s stroke.)

As Simon Young notes, “there have been several large-scale population-wide surveys of supernatural and psychic experiences over the past 120 years.” These have shown that as many as a quarter of the population have had these kinds of significant experiences, the kind that “the rest of the population would rather not think about.”

As much as twenty-five percent of the population is an impressive number. Maybe, like me, they just read too many issues of Fortean Times or maybe, just maybe, there are layers and layers of otherness living just beneath the surface of ordinary life.

Random quote of the day:

“I believe that in the 20th century, humanity has learned from many, many experiences. Some positive, and many negative. What misery, what destruction! The greatest number of human beings were killed in the two world wars of this century. But human nature is such that when we face a tremendous critical situation, the human mind can wake up and find some other alternative. That is a human capacity.”

—Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, New York Times, November 18, 1993

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Orville and Wilbur, Katy Perry, or the Avengers. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Belief cannot be transferred, for it is a function of experience.”

—Dennis Gaffin, Running with the Fairies

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Orville and Wilbur, Katy Perry, or the Avengers. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“A person generally needs to find his/her own way to connections with the Other Realms. A person cannot really be instructed into experiencing the sacred. It must come from within.”

—Dennis Gaffin, Running With the Fairies: Towards a Transpersonal Anthropology of Religion

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Orville and Wilbur, Katy Perry, or the Avengers. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“You will never be able to experience everything. So, please, do poetical justice to your soul and simply experience yourself.”

—Albert Camus, The Notebooks

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Try to learn to breathe deeply, really taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

—William Saroyan, Preface, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories

 alive4WP@@@

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

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