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Messengers from the Unseen - Page 2

Breaking with Tradition

My devoutly secular upbringing in an intellectually skeptical New York, German-Jewish family had hardly prepared me for my future career course, although curiosity and exploration were encouraged. My parents were academicians. My father, a professor of English literature at New York's City College, read the Bible to my sister and me not as the word of God, but as a document of great literary importance for our culture and personal education.

I became a physician in order to be a psychiatrist, and my orthodox Freudian psychoanalytic training in Boston contained no critique of the culture of mechanism and scientific materialism that prevails in the American medical community. In this worldview, in the words of intellectual historian Richard Tarnas, "the soul of the world was voided from the entire universe and was appropriated essentially by the human being." Furthermore, realities that cannot be proven by established methods of science were considered of lesser significance.

In my Oberlin education, however, was something that encouraged openness and a willingness to consider distinctly unorthodox possibilities. The history and culture of the College is filled with challenges to the social, political, and intellectual status quo. It is more than mere coincidence that the true pioneer in exploring the alien abduction phenomenon is Budd Hopkins '53, who first introduced me to the abductee population.

The traditional worldview of my upbringing began to erode when I undertook three years of training in the Grof holotropic breathwork method, a therapeutic form that brings about a non-ordinary state of consciousness through deep breathing and powerful, evocative music. In this altered state, an expanded reality may open up for the breather. Universes of possibility open up, and the breather can identify with virtually any time, being, or place in the cosmos. He or she has access to the experience of intrauterine and birth-related events, and consciousness seems to separate from the physical body. The pantheons of mythic beings become possible objects of such identification.

This work softened me up for what was to follow. Without it I would have rejected the idea that many people of sound mind (more than one million in the U.S. alone, according to various polls, have conscious recollection of alien visitations) were encountering entities, although their characteristics may seem bizarre and the technologies involved poorly understood. Nevertheless, it was a huge stretch for me to take seriously the possibility that what the "abductees," or "experiencers" as I prefer to call them, were reporting was in some way real, not simply a product of their minds or imaginations.

By the time Abduction was published, I had been working closely for several years with more than 50 of these individuals in my psychiatry practice. I was convinced that there was no psychiatric explanation for what my patients were encountering. This I based on several factors: their fundamental soundness of mind, including appropriate skepticism; the close similarity of experiences among individuals who had not had contact with each other; the association with UFOs in the vicinity; physical elements; the absence of anything to gain by reporting these experiences (on the contrary, the experiencers must be very careful to whom they tell their stories lest they face doubt, ridicule, and isolation); and, finally, reports of experiences by children as young as 2 years old.

Once word got around that I would not immediately treat experiencers as though they were mentally ill, people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses who thought they might have had alien encounters sought me out. Before writing anything publicly on this subject, I had spent hundreds of hours listening with wonderment to tales that were sometimes so similar to one another as to be virtually interchangeable. Sometimes the experiencers were astounded (I call this response "ontological shock") to discover that other people had had similar experiences, as they had hoped I could "cure" them of the problem or make it disappear with a pill or a trenchant psychiatric interpretation.

By now the basic outline of the abduction phenomenon is familiar to most people who read magazines or watch television, but this was not the case when I began this work in 1990. Even now the authentic details are rarely depicted accurately in the mass media. Essentially a person may be "visited" at night or during the day by humanoid beings of varying description, but most commonly they are portrayed as three-and-a-half to four feet tall with large heads and eyes and rather slight bodies. Reptilian, insect-like, light/luminous, or even actual humans have been described in conjunction with abduction experiences. Sometimes the individual describes being moved through space into a craft where various procedures occur. Often these involve a human/alien reproductive process, which leads in the creation of one or more hybrid beings with whom the experiencer is likely to feel a powerful emotional connection.

In addition to these physical elements, the experiencers receive information telepathically from the beings, either through their large black eyes or from images shown on television-like monitors. Most significantly this is concerned with the destruction of Earth's living systems, and, vistas of destruction, often of apocalyptic proportions, are forced upon the experiencers. One abductee has called this ecological education "alien boot camp."

Frequently, the experiencers, who may have had little awareness of the perilous state of the earth's environment, become passionately committed to the preservation of our planet. These experiences can be highly traumatic because they are so shattering of the person's reality. But if the experiencers are enabled to work through their terror, powerful spiritual awakenings and growth may occur.

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