Transcript of Episode #003 of the OEITH podcast, The Terrors of Awakening, exploring the potentially destabilising effects of awakening and the possible relationship of these to alienation abductions, MK Ultra, conspiracy theories, and more.
OEITH #003 The Terrors of Awakening

I remember very vividly that first awakening experience that I had in 2009. I had a regular meditation practice. I was sitting for about two hours a day. And I came down one morning to meditate and realized on sitting that something was different. Something was really different.

There was a new awareness. There was something in my mind that didn’t make any sense at all. It felt like almost as if a part of the external world was somehow inside the mind. There was something and it was indescribable: it wasn’t a thought; it wasn’t a sensation; it wasn’t an emotion; it wasn’t a concept; it was something beyond the mind entirely that somehow seemed to be in there, and I remember sitting, looking at this thing and thinking: How can I be aware of this? How can this even be possible?

In that moment I realized that, obviously, experiences of this kind were what people down the ages had described as “God”. There seemed no better word for it. It felt like I was in touch with something that was outside of material reality. It wasn’t me but somehow it was part of my awareness.

Other feelings came up as well, which was: What do I do with this? What the hell do I do now?

When I sat down that morning to meditate that experience just instantly made redundant everything that I had been trying to do. What was the point in sitting to meditate now that this was here, because before then, an experience like this was presumably what I’ve been trying to reach but now, now it was just there all of the time, blaring in my face, and it was disturbing and it was terrifying as well as amazing and incredible and filling me full of wonder, because where was I supposed to go now? What was I supposed to do? What was supposed to happen?

Somebody had once said to me, knowing that I was into awakening and enlightenment and all of that; they said to me once: “Well, what if you get enlightened and you don’t like it?” At the time I thought that was one of the most stupid things I’d ever heard anybody say. But then after that experience, that first awakening experience, suddenly it didn’t feel so stupid. There is something about experiences of awakening that – besides all the bliss, amazement, wonder, fusion with the divine, which those sorts of experiences can bring – is troubling, disturbing.

I find myself inclined to describe it as a kind of positive trauma. I like the way that those two words contradict the normal sense of things. Awakening experiences are deeply destabilizing, de-centring, but at the same time full of light and bliss and amazement. Does it make any sense at all to think that there might be such a thing as positive trauma?

Normally we take the view that trauma is a negative experience. But if it’s possible to frame trauma in a positive light, such as awakening experiences might suggest, then perhaps that takes us into some interesting realms.

There’s a famous moment in a television interview that Jung gave in 1959 when the interviewer asks him does he believe in God.

Interviewer: Do you now believe in God?

Jung: Now? Difficult to answer. I know. I needn’t – I don’t need to believe. I know.

The first time I ever heard that I was just struck by how arrogant Jung seemed, the fact that he was saying that he knew God existed. Could anyone have that certainty? Now, when I listen to that clip, it’s the silence as Jung struggles to find the answer to that question that I can hear. I can hear him trying to somehow put that experience that he’s had into words. He had already put it into words, however, in The Red Book, although it wasn’t published at the time, of course. I’m going to read the passages from The Red Book where he talks about his experience. And maybe keep in mind again that idea I’ve put forward of awakening as a kind of positive trauma… This is what Jung writes:

“Through uniting with the self, we reach the god. I must say this not with reference to the opinions of the ancients or this or that authority, but because I have experienced it. It has happened thus in me, and it certainly happened in a way that I neither expected nor wished for. The experience of the god in this form was unexpected and unwanted. I wish I could say it was a deception, and only too willingly would I disown this experience. But I cannot deny that it has seized me beyond all measure and steadily goes on working in me. So, if it is deception then deception is my god. Moreover, the god is in the deception, and if this were already the greatest bitterness that could happen to me, I would have to confess to this experience and recognize the god in it. No insight or objection is so strong that it could surpass the strength of this experience, and even if the god had revealed himself in a meaningless abomination, I could only avow that I have experienced the god in it. I even know that it is not too difficult to cite a theory that would sufficiently explain my experience and join it to the already known. I could furnish this theory myself and be satisfied in intellectual terms, and yet this theory would be unable to remove even the smallest part of the knowledge that I have experienced the god. I recognize the god by the unshakableness of the experience. I cannot help but recognize him by the experience. I do not want to believe it. I do not need to believe it. Nor could I believe it. How can one believe such? My mind would need to be totally confused to believe such things given their nature. They are most improbable. Not only improbable but also impossible. For our understanding only a sick brain could produce such deceptions. I am like those sick persons who have been overcome by delusion and sensory deception. But I must say that the god makes us sick. I experience the god in sickness. A living god afflicts our reason like a sickness. He fills the soul with intoxication. He fills us with reeling chaos. How many will the god break? The god appears to us in a certain state of soul. Therefore, we reach the god through the self. Not the self is god, although we reach the god through the self. The god is behind the self, above the self, the self itself when he appears, but he appears as our sickness from which we must heal ourselves. We must heal ourselves from the god since he is also our heaviest wound.”

When I read that passage in The Red Book, I immediately recognized my own experience in that. But of course, Jung puts it in a way that I couldn’t equal. There’s that sense there that the awakening experience is a kind of sickness, a kind of wound is the word that he uses, a wound that is inflicted upon us and, after the experience, we need to heal from that in some sense – and just the sense in that passage of Jung’s reluctance, inability to accept what it is that that he has experienced really struck a chord with me.

Now, just to say that awakening experiences take different forms to different people. I was talking with a friend yesterday and we were laughing because although the experience I had put an end to me describing myself as an atheist, for him it very much confirmed his atheism. I’m pretty certain that he’s had the same experience that I’ve had, but whereas for me it was an experience in which I encountered something that it seemed to me obvious was what people had described as “God”, for him it was an experience of encountering something that was so unlike what he had conceived of God as being that for him it confirmed that there is no God. But I’m pretty sure, as I said, the experiences that we’ve had are the same, and this points to something important that also seems to be in play here, which is: we approach these experiences through the filter of our own personal ego.

For some people, I think, awakening doesn’t have a traumatic aspect to it at all because it’s something that perhaps people respond to in different ways, that people can be more open to than others. But certainly, for me, there were aspects of it that were definitely disturbing, and I recognized that as well in in Jung’s description of his experience.

There’s a really interesting book by a guy called Russell Razzaque with the title Breaking Down Is Waking Up. Now, Razzaque is a psychiatrist, and he happened to get very interested in meditation and went off, did a retreat, got hooked, kept meditating and eventually had an awakening experience, some of the elements of which were quite destabilizing. Immediately afterwards, and being a psychiatrist, he was struck by seeming parallels in what he was experiencing and the sorts of symptoms and experiences that his patients described to him. What he does in this book is present a model that casts interesting light on the possible relationship between psychosis and awakening. How he ended up visualizing that model was seeing the two on basically a continuum. He visualizes psychosis and awakening as two points along the continuum and he suggests that when we exercise self-awareness, when we’re meditating, that takes us in one direction along the continuum, whereas stress and trauma take us in the other direction. The main thing that seems to determine what direction we’re moving in seems to be intention. If we’re meditating then we’re usually meditating because we’ve decided to do so, we’ve made a conscious choice to engage with it, whereas if we’re stressed or traumatized then that’s against our will; that’s something that has been forced upon us. But in either case we’re being driven along the continuum in one direction or the other. And what that continuum itself appears to be is basically just the way in which the ego is reacting to its experiences. If we’re meditating, then the ego is quietly dissolving in an intentional way. But if we’re stressed or traumatized then the ego’s struggling to defend itself as best it can in the face of hurt, injury, destructive forces coming from outside.

Razzaque provides a metaphor. He talks about the ego “rising like a souffle” when it’s under stress. So, when we’re subjected to trauma or stress, the ego tries to make itself bigger to withstand the attack, but it rises up like a souffle – it disintegrates even as it gets bigger. That’s the image that he uses, whereas, presumably, when we meditate, when we intentionally still and calm the mind, the ego just gently dissolves away. In both cases – awakening, and psychosis or trauma – something beyond the mind is invading the mind. In the case of awakening, generally that’s something that we’re inviting; that’s something that’s being invited. In the case of trauma or psychosis that’s the mind coming apart as things from outside force their way in. So, when I’m talking about positive trauma, what I’m suggesting is there can be an invasion of the mind that’s invited. It may be destabilizing, frightening, terrifying to some extent, but what I mean by positive trauma is that this is something that’s been invited and it’s something that we can also step back from if we need to, at any point, if things get too overwhelming.

Somewhere in the middle perhaps are psychedelic experiences. We may well intend to take a psychedelic substance and have an experience from that, but of course once we’ve taken it, we’re on a ride that we can’t get off, and if we decide that we don’t like it then there’s seven or eight hours that we’ll need to get through before we get back to normal, and sometimes it can become more of a traumatic experience than something that we’ve willingly undertaken.

If we’re meditating, generally we can only get as far as our ego can tolerate and usually, if the experience is too much we can easily take a step back. But psychedelics and trauma can easily push us past our limits, and we can end up in places or having insights that we may not in a spiritual sense be ready for or prepared for, and that can sometimes throw up odd paradoxes.

I came across somebody a while back who had taken LSD and found themselves having an experience of the oneness of all things: that sense that there’s just one consciousness that we’re all part of. This had come unexpectedly out of the blue and the person concerned had been very disturbed by this and it seemed that they were seeking reassurance that what they’d seen during that trip wasn’t true because, as they expressed it, if it were true then that would mean consciousness went on forever and there was no death and they would never die.

I wonder if instead of taking psychedelics they’d been meditating and they’d got to that insight at their own pace, in their own time, whether in that case it would have felt a lot more tolerable and whether then they wouldn’t have ended up feeling, as they did, that the idea of death was actually more consoling than what they’d actually stumbled upon.

This idea of trauma, psychosis, and awakening all being on a kind of continuum leads us into some dark and strange places, but perhaps also into a useful perspective for making sense of some of the phenomena that we see on the occult scene, and helps us make a bit more sense maybe of the darker, more conspiratorial dimensions of occultism.

What sent my thoughts heading in this direction recently was, as often happens, just the coincidental coming together of ideas I’d come across in a few places, and one of these was a podcast, an interview that Alex Tsakiris did with Whitley Strieber a while back.

Strieber, of course, is the author of Communion. He’s a prolific and accomplished writer who basically created the whole alien abduction phenomenon. Strieber was talking with Tsakiris about how his uncle and father were both in the US military and both seem to have been involved in the intelligence services to quite a high degree. Strieber was talking about how he remembers being enrolled in some kind of intense educational programme in around 1952, when he was about seven. From this time the memories that he has are sort of vague and uncertain and he himself wonders whether some of them might be half-imagined, but what brought things to a head was when he mentioned these memories to a close friend who was from a similar background, and this friend, who was a little bit older, remembered being on the same program, which was pitched as a educational program for bright children, and it was presented to them as an honour for them to take part in this. Strieber remembers it was on Thursday nights and he went along quite happily for the first time, but then when he was about to leave for the second time he panicked and would not attend.

From what I gather, though, he does remember going back on a number of occasions and on one of these he remembers getting upset while he was actually in the class, and they took him outside – it was on the airbase, apparently – and they took him outside to sit in a jet but even that didn’t distract him or calm him down. He remembers that this program started about two weeks before the autumn school term, but after school had started his immune system collapsed and he remembers getting ill and he was taken to the military hospital and isolated for three or four days, and when he went home he was not allowed to be in school for a few weeks or see any of the other children, and when he finally returned back to school in January he was no longer on the educational program.

Strieber doesn’t go into a lot of detail about things that he actually remembers from this time, but the impression is very much that some of them were strange and disturbing. One of the things he does mention is being on the educational program and being placed in a Skinner Box: a piece of equipment from behavioural psychological experiments. It’s a contraption. You would typically put a rat inside a Skinner Box and it would have a bar that the rat would press to get rewards. That kind of an apparatus. So Strieber can remember being put into one of these as part of this program that he was on. The suggestion is that he and the other children were part of psychological experiments and were being conditioned in some way.

Now, at this time it’s now known that the US Government was running a secret project called MK Ultra. This was headed up by a guy called Sidney Gottlieb and it was run by the CIA. The project had quite a wide scope. All of what it did was very secret. Some of what it did was illegal. What it was mostly focused upon was psychological warfare and finding ways to, in effect, influence or destroy the human mind. Supposedly, at the end of the project Gottlieb came to the conclusion that it wasn’t actually possible to control or destroy the human mind, but it seems that they spent a lot of effort on trying to do that and, as well as psychological techniques, they also experimented with various drugs, including LSD, as is quite well known.

Strieber, understandably, doesn’t specifically remember what it was that was done to him during these so-called educational sessions, but he does express the view that whatever it was it seemed to incline himself and the other children on the program to later contact with the alien beings that he described in his book Communion, and commentators have come up with various theories about what the true aims of MK Ultra might have been, which, of course, you can find all over the internet, some of them being the idea that the CIA was intentionally inducing dissociative identity disorder in people through traumatizing them, because by breaking down the personality this opens people to telepathic contact with extra-terrestrials.

By all means draw your own conclusion about that theory, but I came across another take on MK Ultra on Laura London’s podcast, Speaking of Jung, where she interviewed a guy named Walter Bosley who has recently written a book called Shimmering Light, which contains his reflections on MK Ultra and what its true aims may have been, which he based on personal experience. His father was in the air force and told a rather strange story that he experienced as a memory, which we’ll come back to in due course. Bosley’s theory is that what MK Ultra may have been trying to achieve, and perhaps did achieve, is a technique for implanting false memories. Bosley himself worked in the intelligence service and his idea is that the CIA would have found such a technique really valuable. It would be a way of ensuring that servicemen didn’t divulge state secrets. Suppose you had some personnel who’d been involved in something that you wanted to cover up. What you could do would be to subject them to this technique, implant a false memory in place of what had actually happened, and make the false memory something outlandish so what the servicemen would end up telling instead would be some strange-sounding story that no one would take seriously rather than what had actually happened to that person.

But let’s return to Whitley Strieber for a moment. Now, one of the things that Strieber definitely recalls is being placed in a Skinner Box and he feels that whatever was done to him as part of whatever conditioning or psychological experiment opened him up to communication with aliens later in life. The experience of being put inside a machine, the experience of being under the control or influence of a machine, is a common feature of psychotic delusions, of psychotic experiences, and here we start to venture into very murky, very dark and uncertain territory.

Strieber also suggests that some of the memories that he has from this time in his life are of very disturbing, possibly atrocious things. The idea of satanic, sadistic cults carrying out atrocities can be a feature of psychotic delusions also, but at the same time that doesn’t mean that satanic ritual abuse isn’t something that could possibly happen to somebody. Likewise, being put in a Skinner Box and being subjected to psychological experiments isn’t something that couldn’t happen, and supposing it did happen, supposing an individual were subjected to being put in strange machines and having strange things done to them, or being the victim of ritual abuse, witnessing atrocities, those would be extremely distressing experiences very likely to produce in someone psychological trauma or possibly psychosis. And if that is the case then we find ourselves in an area where, by definition, it’s almost impossible to say what’s going on, what’s real and what isn’t. If you’ve intentionally subjected somebody to a situation like this then you’ve made the cause of their condition indistinguishable from the symptoms of it. You’ve in effect hidden what you’ve done to them at the same time as you’ve discredited any account that they might give of it.

The story that Walter Bosley’s father told him as a child, and this was many years after the events were supposed to have taken place, was that as a member of air force personnel his father had been sent as part of a rescue operation to Arizona. They were briefed that the military were aware of another civilization living in parallel with us on earth, a hidden civilization, and that from time to time there would be contact between us and them and that Roswell was actually one of the craft belonging to this other civilization crashing. So, Walter Bosley’s father maintained that they were sent to Arizona because another craft had crashed and there was reason to believe that the pilots of this craft were alive and needed to be rescued, and what subsequently happened was a descent into a subterranean cavern and, unfortunately, coming into conflict with members of this other civilization, and one of the men with Bosley’s father was killed during this altercation, and Bosley recalls that this is usually where the story would end with his father getting very emotional about what had happened.

Having worked in intelligence himself, Bosley’s theory is that his father had had some sort of false memory implanted. His father had been involved in some sort of secret mission, perhaps, and the powers that be had wanted to cover this up so they’d implanted this memory that no one would believe, no one could verify, and presumably this had been achieved by conditioning or traumatizing Bosley’s father in some way.

Bosley in the podcast suggests that Sidney Gottlieb, the head of the MK Ultra program was very interested in New Age thinking and also in myth and folklore, and also around this time we have The Schaefer Mystery: these were a series of stories published in science fiction magazines that developed a mythos of an underground civilization living in parallel with those of us dwelling above ground level. Bosley suggests that this may have been the reason why those particular memories had been implanted into his father, because that was the sort of stuff that Gottlieb was into.

I’ve only done a little bit of searching, but I’ve not been able to confirm that Gottlieb was interested in those sorts of myths, but there is an interesting question here of why it does seem to be certain sorts of narratives, certain sorts of symbols and stories, that seem to prevail in this area, in this realm: the idea of a sinister, hidden group that has evil intention, that perpetuates atrocities against us, that hides in the shadows or literally lives underground in caves, that has technology superior to ours, that can influence us in strange ways that we don’t quite understand.

If the intelligence forces wanted to obscure what Walter Bosley’s father had been up to then they could have chosen any sort of narrative. Why not unicorns and tigers? Supposedly they concluded that it was not possible to destroy the human mind, but maybe they did find ways to seriously obscure memories, the truth of the past. Or could it be that actually you don’t need to implant a narrative at all. Could it be that these narratives lie close to hand in some sense, that they’re part of the architecture of the mind?

Razzaque suggested that when the mind is subjected to stress or trauma the ego inflates like a souffle – sort of blows up. Maybe it cracks along specific fault lines. Unlike spiritual practice, in trauma the ego doesn’t willingly surrender, in which case it’s having the experience of being invaded by something from outside itself. So, is it not understandable if that souffle has a specific flavour, which is the flavour of being in telepathic contact with aliens, of being subject to the influence and cruelty and atrocity of shadowy groups of people who are vastly more powerful than ourselves? What these narratives possibly might be is an image of trauma itself, seen from the perspective of the ego. That’s why these narratives keep coming back, because they embody the story of the ego’s forced dissolution.

Strieber says something really interesting in his interview with Tsakiris and I’m going to quote it. He says: “Let me tell you something about black magick. First, it’s quite real, and second, it’s like flypaper. You touch it, you can never escape. An organization touches it, that organization is part of it. The more you try to escape from it the deeper you get.” And then he says there’s only one way to escape: “and that is to live a life of love, compassion, and humility. If you do not actively work on that you will not escape.”

It’s interesting there, maybe, that what Strieber is advocating is a kind of spiritual practice. You need to live a life of love, compassion, and humility, he says, which is moving in the opposite direction that we talked about in Razzaque’s model: finding a way to intentionally make the ego small, in contrast to having it smashed apart by unintentional forces outside of itself. The antidote to the horror of being invaded, Strieber seems to be suggesting, is to practise compassion, humility, love; to find ways to open yourself up intentionally to what’s beyond the ego. He seems to be suggesting that that’s the only way to cope with it and to transform it into another type of experience altogether. Still traumatic, of course, but bringing in an element of intentionality, of opening.

So, we began by considering how awakening can sometimes lead into trauma, and where we’ve arrived at now is perhaps how trauma can lead into awakening, with Strieber talking about how he came to cope with his experiences by developing what is essentially a spiritual practice, exercising compassion, humility, and trying to find ways to accept the “visitors”, as he calls them, into his life. But it’s not that “acceptance” (to whatever degree that’s achievable) means that there isn’t pain and suffering involved in those visitations.

What I wanted to turn to now is that other side of trauma turning into awakening, thinking back to the story that Walter Bosley’s father talked about: the rescue mission in the caves and the hidden civilization that lived in the caves. It links up with the Schaefer Mystery that was in circulation around that time, but it also links up with the documentary series Hellier, which was released a few years ago.

Hellier is a documentary record of a group of paranormal investigators who receive a series of emails from a guy based near or in the town of Hellier who sends through some evidence of visitations to his property by creatures that look like goblins or alien greys and which he suspects are coming from nearby cave systems. So, this group of paranormal investigators they go to investigate and over the course of two seasons of episodes they get drawn into an increasingly bizarre web of coincidences, connections, synchronicities, that lead them progressively into occultism – away from paranormal investigation into very much the occult world in which Aleister Crowley and ideas taken from his system of Thelema begin to feature more and more. And towards the end of the series, they find themselves drawn towards performing some kind of ritual in the system of caves that is designed to invite the god Pan back into the world. It’s as if these sorts of narratives, these sorts of symbols, spontaneously create themselves, continue to re-echo, re-emerge.

I must confess I’ve never actually taken the time to read his books, but Kenneth Grant also comes to mind: that same circle of ideas about threatening, dark forces and underground places and spaces, and alien intelligence about to burst into the world. They keep coming back, they keep returning. They’re the very stuff of trauma and psychosis, and sometimes these ideas return as that, but we have to be careful with pathologizing them because, as we’ve seen, these sorts of images can be symptoms, but they can also be the causes of those symptoms. Trauma and psychosis are sometimes expressed through these images but these images, if they relate to actual happenings, could just as easily be the cause of those conditions. Somebody might end up with a memory of alien abduction due to traumatic experiences, or psychosis, but they could also end up with a memory of alien abduction because they’ve been abducted by aliens.

When you’re thinking and working in this area you simply have to keep both of those options in play. But we considered also Razzaque’s idea that when confronted with trauma and stress the ego disintegrates even as it expands to try to counteract the impact of what’s attacking it, and therefore the possibility that these images and symbols might be a kind of debris that tends to appear when the ego responds to overwhelming experiences that it can’t in any way integrate. In that case, if awakening experiences can also be experienced as traumatic, could it be possible that these images might also arise as a response to the prospect of awakening?

In terms of stress and negative trauma, these images would arise as a consequence of that, but could it be that in cases where someone is approaching an awakening experience, these images might arise as a kind of prelude? As somebody moves towards an awakening experience and that encroaches upon them, could it be that the ego starts to break down, starts to try to defend against that, and these images are thrown up as part of that breaking down process? Thinking about this in terms of the documentary series Hellier, the team begin as paranormal investigators doing the sorts of things paranormal investigators usually do, going around haunted sites calling out to spirits, trying to get measurements of EMF fields and doing EVP research – all that kind of stuff, which I’ve always tended to think of as not the science that often these paranormal teams think that they’re doing, but as really a form of magick, a form of ritual.

Paranormal investigation teams, unless they’re guided by a strictly scientific methodology, in my view are usually performing unwitting magick; they’re creating experiences. But as the team in Hellier get drawn more and more into weirdness and synchronicities, and it does seem possible in Hellier that there may be some sort of guiding intelligence behind this, because they continue to receive emails from an anonymous source that seems to be steering them in a particular direction – as this continues, as this proceeds, they become drawn more and more into what is explicitly magick and occultism to the extent that they end up performing what is explicitly a ritual to invoke an ancient god. Hellier is in essence the story of an initiation into ceremonial magick. A team of paranormal investigators become, by the end of it, occultists.

Towards the very end of the series references start to appear to a ritual called the Star Sapphire ritual, which, when you look at the details, is a sex-magical practice for inducing states of non-dual consciousness; and references to the number 418, for instance, appear, which is the number of the Great Work of magick, the union with the Holy Guardian Angel. At the very end that’s where it seems to have been leading them all along, but to have reached that point they’ve done an awful lot of stumbling around in caves looking for goblins and possible traces of sinister satanic groups performing atrocious rituals in dark places. Are these types of stories, these types of images possibly the necessary outcome of the ego rebelling against the encroachment of awakening, initiation? Is Whitley Strieber describing something similar in his trajectory, involving brutal, terrifying invasion by entities from another place, which, as he describes, over time he had to respond to by trying to find a way to accommodate this phenomenon that’s entirely from beyond? And what that entailed for him was compassion, love, humility. These images, as we said, are the very stuff of trauma and psychosis, but they’re also the stuff of conspiracy theory.

Now, I really enjoy listening to Alex Tsakiris on his Skeptico podcast, and on almost every episode he challenges the secular materialist paradigm that views human beings as “biological robots”, as Tsakiris puts it. “Biological robots in a meaningless universe.” And, as he sees it, science so completely and wilfully ignores evidence to the contrary, such as near-death experiences or the placebo effect, and this seems so nonsensical to him, that, for Tsakiris, he argues that science as it is today has to be run from a conspiratorial framework. In other words, his view is that science is intentionally suppressing evidence that runs counter to the dominant materialist paradigm and pretty much every guest he has on he tends to run this idea past them, to see what sort of a response he’ll get. And sadly, for the most part, most of the guests, from what I’ve seen, tend to sidestep that question.

The view I tend towards at the moment is that materialism, scientific materialism, is not a conspiracy; it’s just a very, very crappy version of the truth. Let’s break that down a bit. So, if we take Tsakiris’s characterization of materialist science, which presents human beings as “biological robots in a meaningless universe”, well, let’s compare that notion of reality with a non-dual experience that you might encounter during meditation, say, or during a psychedelic experience. When we’re in the midst of a non-dual experience, is it true to say that we are a human being? My view is that I don’t think it is true in those sorts of experiences: we are merged with the divine. There’s a kind of awareness that is very much beyond ordinary human awareness. And consider as well, in a non-dual experience do we have free will? And again, my view is that no, I don’t think we do. When we find ourselves in such an experience, we cease to be individuals. We don’t have a sense of our self as a separate, individual person anymore. So, the idea of free will doesn’t apply.

Okay, taking stock of that in a non-dual experience we are not a human being, and we do not have free will, and it is perfectly evident to us in that experience that this is the nature of reality, so now comparing that with materialist science, that asserts that we are “biological robots in a meaningless universe” – those two perhaps aren’t so far apart. Common to both of them is what looks like a sort of objectification of our humanity, although it’s a bit more complicated than that in the non-dual experience.

I don’t think science is a conspiracy. I think it’s sincere, and it’s a sincere adherence to what is, in comparison to the non-dual experience, a kind of crappy version of it. It’s got all of the objectivity but none of the transcendence. Likewise, maybe the idea of being taken up into a UFO and whisked away by alien beings and subjected to invasive procedures by them, maybe that too is really just a sincerely held but kind of degraded picture of the non-dual experience, which in a sense is also like being swept away and totally taken apart by something immeasurably vaster than ourselves.

Spiritual awakening can be hugely traumatic, and perhaps we can sometimes find ourselves fending it off just as vigorously as we would fend off any other kind of trauma. I’m thinking again of the person I mentioned earlier, who felt more consoled by the notion that he would be dead forever than the notion that he might be part of one consciousness that was ceaseless and eternal. But maybe here as well are symbols, images, that incline in a slightly different direction. And I’m thinking of Strieber, how, in his book Communion the dominant female alien that he encounters, and whose face is shown famously on the cover of the book, he comes to identify her with the goddess Ishtar.

This entity tells him that she is very ancient, and he wonders whether Ishtar was a form in which she was perceived by our ancestors. Alongside all the caves and goblins and extra-terrestrials and satanic cults, what we also sometimes glimpse is an encounter in a place of darkness with the goddess. In Hellier the team end up venturing into the caves to intentionally evoke the god Pan, and I’m reminded of the Greek philosopher, Parmenides, although this takes us far beyond where I wanted to go, who creates the very foundations of Greek philosophy in a vision that he reports whereby he arrived at the truth by first having to venture into the underworld and meet a goddess there, the goddess of the dead. But this is material for another time, perhaps.


Three days into a meditation retreat in 2015 I was screaming and retching over the toilet bowl, overwhelmed with panic and convinced I was about to die.

With the help of friends, somehow I recovered and completed the retreat with some positive gains. But things were never the same.

Occasionally, the panic would return. The trigger was usually an emotionally demanding situation I could not avoid. With basic mindfulness it would usually pass without too much difficulty.

But my next retreat in 2018 was even worse. Again, three or four days in, things turned dark. I was floored by despair and pointlessness and felt I could not go on. Once more, wise and compassionate companions buoyed me up. But I was so badly side-swiped that there was not enough retreat time left to make up the lost ground.

2015 seemed to have been about unresolved grief. In 2018 it was violent self-disgust. On my next retreat in 2019, again, it surfaced after three or four days. This time I was lying in wait. Beneath the grief and self-disgust I grasped a hellish sensation of abandonment and helplessness. It felt like a kink or flaw; not a mental state as such, certainly not a stage of insight, but something in my sense of self that was leaving me wide open and vulnerable to certain states and stages.

Unwanted, unexpected, nevertheless there it was, and it did not seem to be going anywhere. “If we would just go into finely discerned sensate reality”, writes Daniel Ingram, “and try to see the three characteristics of each sensation that makes up experience, we might begin to understand reality at a level that makes the difference” (Ingram 2018: 112). This had always been my guiding principle in meditation: focus on the nature of experience without getting side-tracked into its contents, all those clamouring personal issues and mind noise. What I had come up against was precisely that. But the sense was growing that this needed to be understood and addressed before it seemed likely my experience would change.

Other factors were steering me in this direction. A friend attained the Knowledge and Communication of the Holy Guardian Angel with relatively little meditative work, but with maximum emphasis on personal psychological transformation. This produced some of the most jaw-dropping synchronicities I have ever witnessed before his realisation of the angel during a trauma-processing session.

Before this, I would have doubted that psychotherapy could bring about awakening, even though (reading between the lines) this is specifically what Jung promised. As Marie-Louise von Franz succinctly described it:

Before one is integrated and individuated, one’s own complexes tend to come through. But if one has really worked to solve one’s own problems and the complexes are integrated, then one can connect with the collective unconscious and its wisdom can flow through one. At the end point of development (the end stage of the individuation process), the Zen masters are in such a state of harmony with the collective unconscious […] they are together in the unus mundus, so to speak. (von Franz 1979: 115)

In other words: resolve your stuff, experience synchronicities, and awaken. Exactly what had occurred with my friend.

Simultaneously, a close relationship had started to provoke some intense reactions in me, feelings very like those I had encountered on retreat. To work out how these were being triggered, I did some reading on attachment styles.

Attachment theory is a typology of human relationships, developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. It postulates that our experience of caregivers in infancy establishes basic patterns of relating that persist into later life. The four basic attachment styles are:

  • secure
  • dismissive-avoidant
  • anxious-ambivalent
  • disorganised

Because my childhood was loving and stable, and I am happy in my own company, I always supposed my attachment style was “secure”. But then I stumbled across an uncannily exact description of the relationship dynamics I was experiencing and discovered the role I occupied in these was not one of “secure” attachment at all, but “anxious-ambivalent”.

This form of relating can arise where caregivers are perceived as unreliable or unresponsive. People with this attachment style are needy yet will probably have learned to express this subtly, so that others will stay close and enable them to feel safe. To maintain this, it is also important not to be seen to be comforted, for in that case the other person might assume we are okay and then go away. This is where the “ambivalent” aspect originates: indifference is used as a means to keep the other person engaged, and to prevent them from feeling over-depended-upon, but also to protect oneself against abandonment in case they do decide to disconnect. I realised how this pretence at independence and self-containment was what I had mistaken in myself for secure attachment. In truth, I was ceaselessly denying an unappeasable longing for connection. This discovery completely unseated my view of myself, but at least now the hellish sensations of abandonment and helplessness were starting to make sense.

John Bowlby (1907-1990) and Mary Ainsworth (1913-1999), originators of attachment theory.

It is not all negative, of course. People with anxious-ambivalent attachment are often loving and caring because that is how they need to be treated by others. “They are also very good at detecting when others are not interested or unhappy”, writes Helen Dent, “and they are willing to face this head on, even if it involves disagreement or conflict” (2019: 62). However, in relationships people with this attachment style tend to project onto others or things the independence and self-reliance they cannot own (Power 2019: 48). This reminded me of a recurring pattern in my spiritual practice: striving to embrace exotic states of consciousness, but once I feel my connection to reality shift then feeling threatened, shrinking back in terror, and repeating this pattern over again with too much terror ever to quite let go.

I had been in psychoanalytic psychotherapy for several years but, apart from highlighting the dynamics, this never seemed to take me directly into what I was experiencing. In the meantime, I had discovered Comprehensive Resource Model (CRM), a recently developed therapy for the treatment of psychological trauma. CRM is not currently well-known, yet a training course was conveniently offered at a venue within five miles of my home. After the first day of training I was woken in the night by a surge of those hellish feelings of neglect and abandonment, and a tiny skull that screamed: “These parents are not safe!

In the context of CRM, the skull was a wounded ego-state. These are somatic and emotional sensations arising from past distress that was so overwhelming it has triggered our basic neurophysiological survival responses: fight, flight, or freeze. CRM therapists help the client connect with wounded ego-states and then provide resources for the wounded parts to re-experience the original distress – but this time in a resourced, bearable way – the same distress that triggered the reflexes that originally created the ego-state.

CRM places neurological science front and centre to inform its approach, but it also has a spiritual dimension. Among the resources that help the client to confront distress are power animals, sacred geometry, but also “Core Self”, which (although materialistic perspectives are not excluded) is described in non-dualistic terms: “largely non-intentional, having as its object only the very ground of its awareness” (Schwarz et al 2018: 156).

In CRM, an ego-state is to Core Self as a complex is to the Self in Jungian analysis: ego-states and complexes are both what we can become aware of within experience, whereas the Jungian Self and Core Self in CRM are both empty, the underlying awareness in which contents of experience arise. The aim of Jungian analysis is individuation: integration of complexes into an expanded awareness of the Self. It seems that CRM also harbours an overarching aim:

it is important to remember that trauma release is not the ultimate goal of CRM work. The goal is to access and embody Core Self, for those who choose to do this, but often this is only possible after the trauma work is well under way. (Schwarz et al 2018: 135)

So I began working with a CRM therapist. After a while, he wondered if I were dealing with something that had origins in past-life or intergenerational trauma. Yet another strand of investigations was ongoing at this time, which I have discussed elsewhere: a strong sense of the presence of the dead, and my reception of a magickal text, Liber Pisces, concerning relationships between the dead and the living. CRM, too, has protocols and techniques for working with this kind of material.

Consciously, I had no memories of childhood trauma. What was troubling me had either originated from a very early period of my life, or could it be the effect of something that had not happened to me at all? I could not understand how trauma in ancestors’ experiences could somehow show up in mine. But it is funny, how – having now done some work in that area – presently I can barely see it in any other terms. When I turn attention to human suffering in all its current forms – violent struggles, government corruption, the bellowing hurt and rage of social media, and just that nagging background sensation of despair – I feel ancestral wounds smarting. Our pain, aggression, dissociation, numbness: these are reactions to inherited trauma, everywhere in plain view.

Thomas Hübl writes:

our shadows cannot simply be buried and forgotten; they will haunt us until we return them to life. And if we never do, they will haunt our children and our children’s children, passing each to the next in an endless repetition of karma and time. (Hübl 2020: 225)

Trauma is karma. Trauma freezes and stores the horrors of the past. The notion of the parents’ sins being visited upon the children is very Old Testament (eg. Numbers 14: 18), and it seems cruel, but in how it preserves the past the symptomatology of trauma offers a possibility of growth. We do not merely feel our ancestors’ pain, but through our reactions to it we re-live it, and so there is the possibility of living it differently.

Hübl’s book describes a theory and a practice for achieving this. In a recent podcast interview he commented:

Becoming aware of collective trauma structures is a level of awakening, basically because its nature is that it is split-off and unconscious. So even if I have deeper states of meditation I am not necessarily becoming aware of those fragmented trauma structures, because they are pushed into the unconscious. So I can have very high meditation states and still be in the same way unconscious, because I am not aware that I am unconscious. (Taft 2021: 23’51”)

The implication here is that although we might voyage deeply into refined and highly realised states of awareness, this may accrue a kind of karmic debt. We may become guilty of “spiritual bypassing” without ever being aware of it.

Rather than envisaging the alternative to engagement with our practice as indulgence of mental contents, personal psychological issues, or random mind-noise, it might be helpful to examine in what sense these are really “ours”.

Ultimately, there is no personal, separate self. From this ultimate perspective there is only karma, and when some of this remains unrecognised as ancestral or cultural trauma then we only have the option of re-living it, without ever growing beyond.


Dent, Helen (2019). Why Don’t I Feel Good Enough? Using Attachment Theory to Find a Solution. Abingdon: Routledge.

von Franz, Marie-Louise (1979). Alchemical Active Imagination. Irving, TX: Spring Publications.

Hübl, Thomas (2020). Healing Collective Trauma: A Process for Integrating Our Intergenerational and Cultural Wounds, Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

Ingram, Daniel M. (2018). Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, revised and expanded edition. London: Aeon.

Power, Anne (2019). Avoidant people in relationships: why would they bother? How do partners fare? In: Linda Cundy, ed., Attachment and the Defence Against Intimacy: Understanding and Working with Avoidant Attachment, Self-Hatred, and Shame. Abingdon: Routledge.

Schwarz, Lisa, Frank Corrigan, Alastair Hull, and Rajiv Raju (2018). The Comprehensive Resource Model: Effective Therapeutic Techniques for the Healing of Complex Trauma. Abingdon: Routledge.

Taft, Michael (2021). Deconstructing Yourself: meditation and healing trauma with Thomas Hübl, ( Accessed April, 2021.