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Behind the blinds

It started after the earthquakes. I was in the restroom at Starbucks when the shaking started. My first impression was that I was having a stroke or losing my balance. The black stalls were moving back and forth, and the floor felt like rolling jelly. “Oh no,” I thought, “something is very wrong with me.” Before I had a chance to play the roll call of diseases that might be affecting my brain or inner ear, I heard the squeaking of the hinges on the door and realized that only an earthquake would create such torque and pressure on the stall doors. As soon as what was happening was clear, I ran outside with other terrified patrons. There is nothing like an earthquake to bring people together and to foment conversation. There were a range of reactions, from stoic “oh well, that’s California” to panic.

Unfortunately, I was in the ‘panic’ category. The July 4th holiday was very strange. I headed down to Huntington Beach, noticing that every time I walked around after exiting the car, the earth felt like it was moving. There were aftershocks, and the possibility that my perceptions were based on reality did not escape me. The riot of fireworks that terrified the birds, sending them careening in zigzags from tree to tree in search of refuge, seemed not only inappropriate but jarring to my nerves. I decided that night that I was finished with my country. How I arrived at that difficult sentiment is another story, but let’s just say that the terrified birds, the smoke choking the air, the howling and terrified dogs, and the earthquake all combined in my mind to present a picture of a country that is struggling through chaos and an identity crisis of monumental proportions. I connected “America” with disaster.

The next day, I was sitting on the sofa when I felt the house move. Once again, my first thought was that something was wrong with my vestibular system or my brain, and that I should get to a hospital. Gracie the conure flew around the room in crazy panic, and I realized that the house actually was moving, and much more dramatically than yesterday’s shaking in Starbucks. I sat on the couch in a state of confused fight-or-flight instincts, eventually succumbing to the freeze response as the earthquake continued. When the shaking finally stopped, I realized that for me, the ground had not stopped moving. As I drove to the airport, the car seemed to dip and rise. When I attempted to walk across the street to pick up my husband, the asphalt felt like waves in an agitated sea. My body internalized the earthquake and continued to experience it. This went on for several weeks, and every now and then, I still feel it.

I ran to two Urgent Care doctors in a state of full-fledged panic each time. They said I had panic disorder. I went to my ophthalmologist, convinced that my eyes were not working together anymore; he gave me convex glasses designed to help, but they only made me dizzier. I went to an allergist, convinced that it was sinus problems that had affected my inner ear that was inducing the horrible sensation of the world moving. Nope, he said, this is not the problem. He gently suggested that I have a different problem. “PTSD”, he said. WHAT???? Another doctor had suggested the same thing, and I had immediately rejected that diagnosis. I ran off to a therapist, who told me that I had extreme anxiety, and that I would “never get over it.” She also told me that my abilities as a medium and empath were false: Satan was tricking me.

After consulting all those medical and mental health professionals, I finally had to accept that I had some form of PTSD and panic disorder. I hated to admit to myself that something like that could happen to me. After all, I did not lose anything in the earthquake but my sanity. There was no damage to my house; I did not seem to ‘deserve’ a mental health problem if the earthquake did not destroy anything of mine. However, it DID destroy something: my sense of control. My body learned a very big lesson that day. We are not in control of anything, not even the Earth. The one thing I had always counted on to keep me safe and protected was the Earth, the ground beneath my feet. And if the ground beneath my feet can turn to jelly and rip apart, how am I safe or protected? Epiphany: I am not safe or protected. The Earth and all the people on it owe me nothing, not even the illusion of safety.

Once I realized this on a very deep level, the anxiety became a daily reality for me, and it continues to challenge me. It is a truth that I did not want to feel to the marrow of my bones, but now I have no choice: each moment is precious, because each moment might be our last. We simply do not know when our time on Earth is up, over; we have to accept that life as we know it can be snuffed out or forever altered in a split second. No matter how much I understood that on an intellectual level, I had never felt that truth down deep in my body. I do now.

Regardless of all the factors that can send your body and brain into constant ‘fight or flight’ mode (and there are those who think it does not matter whether or not you identify the cause), the solution seems contradictory: fully embrace and accept your anxiety. Do not fight it, run from it, and ESPECIALLY do not avoid situations that you fear might trigger it. You have to work WITH your anxiety in order for the brain to figure out that you are, in reality, not in danger. That means, everyday you do something that you want to do, even and especially if that ‘thing’ you find captivating frightens you. You must do what scares you.

For example, one day, I decided to head to Burbank to go shopping in the vintage stores on Magnolia. This is something I had never done alone before, and I decided to leave at rush hour with very little gas in the tank. This put me in the situation of not only feeling trapped in traffic, but having to trust that I had enough fuel to make it to my destination (I did, of course, but anxiety tell me to keep the tank 1/2 full at all times). I arrived intact, with symptoms of mounting panic, but I walked up and down the street, went in to crowded stores, navigated the tiny isles, and struck up conversations with the owners and employees. After awhile, I forgot about the physical symptoms of fear and simply enjoyed the experience. On the way home, I was stuck in traffic for an hour and didn’t feel any upset about it at all. I had sent the message to my brain: this only SEEMS like a scary thing to do–in reality, it is not!

Of course, driving to Burbank is nothing like flying to Madrid and taking the train to Granada the next day. Alone. However, that plan is the ultimate brain-test challenge: yes, not only will I accomplish that goal, I expect that I will thrive in an environment that is distracting and requires all of my attention. In my case, boredom and routine create the most stress. If there is nobody to interact with, nothing new to do, nowhere to go, and zero demands on my time, I start to ruminate and worry about anything and everything that my brain can invent. If I have no project, then I have no purpose; if I have no purpose, panic sets in quickly. I must be challenged and opened up to the world in order to overcome the death grip of fear. Oddly enough, it’s not the challenges in life that scare me, but the isolation and frustration of life without goals and mountains to climb.

I made the mistake of giving up on the paranormal as a way to understand reality and prove the persistence of life after death. Of course, I have come to believe (as anyone who reads this blog knows) that physical life and the life of the Self are not interdependent. Consciousness does not rely on a body to function, so the very concept of ‘death’ has become for me a non-issue (not that it will be easy to die and give up your body). When I decided that I ‘knew how it worked’, I lost a big part of my identity: the Investigator. I even went so far as to think that I did not NEED to continue to study any phenomena in the paranormal field. What I did not understand about myself is that investigating mysteries was what brought me the most pleasure in life. I destroyed what I most loved to do, because it was not providing direct and concrete answers to questions that I thought I had already answered for myself through direct experience.

I was so wrong about myself. I need to investigate life’s mysteries and steep myself in the strangeness of it all, because I DO NOT have all the answers, and there is no need to answer the questions that I have raised. Finding specific and repeatable answers to the afterlife–or to reincarnation, or to the nature of consciousness–is not only not possible, it’s not desirable. The mystery itself is the point of creation and life. Enjoying and exploring the unknown and unknowable IS THE POINT. By not doing what I loved, I brought about a huge crisis–one that is, in part, responsible for the ongoing anxiety.

NEVER STOP DOING WHAT YOU LOVE. You do not have to justify it to yourself or others; you are not responsible for finding the answers; you never need to apologize for it. If you cut out your passions, you will suffer the worst of all deaths, one that really does exist: a spiritual death. No matter what it is that fascinates you, never give it up. As a result of my decision that I had the answers that I needed, that I knew myself about as well as one can, and that there were no more strange and surprising things to discover either in the world or in myself, I ended up sick, stunned by panic. The panic is telling me, again and again, GO TO SPAIN. SIT IN A CEMETERY AND CONTACT THE DEAD. Write about it, wonder about it, revel in the impossibility of answering your questions.

Then, and only then, will your body relax and let your spirit flourish. For if your spirit and soul are not in control, then your fears will be.

–Kirsten A. Thorne

I have been gone for a long time. However, there is a good reason: I have been writing a book on the broader topic of spirituality that includes personal details that I have not revealed on Soulbank. The following is a chapter from that book–I hope you enjoy reading it and will be looking forward to more ‘teaser’ chapters.

I read a book one night: The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer. Mr. Singer believes that anyone can achieve enlightenment at any point by simply allowing reality to exist and flow through us without the mediation of our emotions, thoughts, and judgments. A quote that nicely sums up the main thrust of his book is this one: “Deep inner release is a spiritual path in and of itself. It is the path of nonresistance, the path of acceptance, the path of surrender. It’s about not resisting energies as they pass through you.” (250) I decided that if that is ‘all’ that it took to become enlightened, that I could do it. And so I decided to put into practice everything that Mr. Singer suggested.

The first night after I made this decision, I lay on the floor and cried. Emotions needed to flow through me in order to not control and dominate my life and my decisions. I released the pain of my daughter moving to England and taking away the security blanket for my life, exposing my fears and vulnerabilities. I writhed in anger over the mass shootings of recent weeks, the tragic situation at the Southern border, the fact of the hottest July in recorded history, and the deep, painful divisions that our country is living through. I felt like a bottomless pit of pain, but after awhile, the intensity of what I was feeling subsided, and there was a measure of peace.

The next day, I decided that my emotions, judgments, preferences, desires, and fears would ‘pass through me’ without affecting my clear view of reality: the present moment. I downed a theanine gummy (an amino acid present in green tea that is supposed to help with anxiety and lack of focus) and drank a mug of English Breakfast tea while playing Scrabble with my husband. About 30 minutes later, I started to feel very, very strange. The room lightened and colors intensified, and I experienced the bizarre sensation of my head opening up and allowing my consciousness to expand into the room. I seemed to be losing myself as a body and became more of an awareness. The instant reaction was fear. I didn’t want to ‘go’ where this bizarre process was taking me, because I had not intended to experience cosmic unity today. I wanted to hold on to the everyday, mundane reality that I love so dearly, which included taking my turn at Scrabble; but the Universe was not allowing it.

Panic sets in for me when I cannot find a ‘reason’ for a sensation or an experience, and when I cannot control the sensation or experience. I was not directing this expansion of my mind, nor could I stop it from happening. One hundred milligrams of a theanine gummy intended for children could not possibly be the causative agent for what felt like the beginning of a full-blown psychedelic trip. Instead of allowing panic to take over and determine the course of the next hour or so, I lay down on the sofa and decided not to fight the process, even if it made no sense to my terrified mind.

I cried and shook as waves of emotion and energy passed through me. I do not know what had to be released, for any sense of myself as an independent entity vanished, and I was simply a being experiencing something that I was unable to name, comprehend, or describe. “I” was not there to perform those functions. My job was to stay on the couch and not fight it. Indeed, I doubt there was any way to fight the experience, for ‘it’ was far too powerful to be managed.

After about an hour or so, I was able to sit up. I was woozy and confused by what had transpired, but I felt clear, in the way one feels after crying hard for a long time. I was even able to continue playing Scrabble, losing for the second time that weekend. I would love to say that my experience on the sofa cleansed me of my ego and took me straight to Enlightenment, but I found myself angry and resentful about losing the Scrabble game and realized, yet again, that I had not achieved the goal of life ‘passing through me’, even though I had just experienced life passing through me while pressed into the couch! What happened?

I have written before that I do not believe in a ‘path’ or that such a thing as “Enlightenment” truly exists. In fact, I view the concept as an ideal that can easily turn into a spiritual trap where the ego involves itself and starts charging money for the experience at a nice resort where people can smoke toad venom and enlighten themselves instantly. The idea that anyone could ever become–in Mr. Singer’s words–that “open, that complete, and that whole” seemed impossible, idealistic, and in a sense, a denial of human nature at its most fundamental level. We are material beings safeguarding our survival, and to think that we could ever simply allow reality to pass through us without creating meaning around it is something of a pipe dream. After all, do any of us KNOW anyone who does this? Can any of us say that we have met an Enlightened being? And how do we KNOW that someone has achieved such a state?

Stories about gurus who devolve into licentious and criminal behavior are everywhere. I had friends I respected as spiritual seekers who took the content of their cosmic experiences and used that to open psychedelic retreats and charge significant amounts of money to be ‘guides’ for others’ transformative experiences. So many people I know are trying to earn a living selling Enlightenment to lost and desperate souls looking to be happy. I am deeply wary of anyone who profits from spirituality. I watch myself carefully when I write for an audience, even if that audience is very small. I do not know what Enlightenment is, and I do not preach anything to anyone.

And yet, how do I explain experiences that force me to ‘give up’ and allow emotions and strange energies to run through me? How do I explain the psychedelic or spiritually transformative experience? I do not explain it, because I have come to the conclusion that explaining those moments is fundamentally impossible. The force behind such cosmic connections is so mysterious and ineffable that words, even lots and lots of words, do very little to transmit the meaning of the experience. I do not know if these tsunamis of spiritual openings have anything to do with what we think of as Enlightenment. After all, right afterwards, I experienced anger and fear, irritation and resentment, and I did not get the sense that I was ‘liberated’ from any of those emotions.

I think about the basic teachings of Jesus, and they are pretty basic, indeed: Love one another. Easy to say, very hard to do. I think that, in the end, if you can manage to love yourself and others enough that you don’t cause any damage and can perhaps sow the seeds of compassion for the human situation, then you have accomplished as much as can be expected of yourself and others. I am someone who reacts, holds on, rages, refuses to accept a great many situations I find unjust, and is generally quite emotional. I do not think that I am capable of allowing my emotions, thoughts, and judgments to flow through me without any identification with them.

I am willing to admit that I could be wrong about Enlightenment. Perhaps it is achievable by some people; maybe I know someone who fits the criteria, and I am not aware of it, because that is how unenlightened I actually am. When Mr. Singer states, “You truly can reach a state in which you never have any more stress, tension, or problems for the rest of your life”, I want to throw the book across the room. I do not know if I WANT a life without stress, tension, or problems, because all those undesirable states and situations propel me to take action and figure things out. Without resistance, there is no pushing through to the other side of your limitations. The chick must peck her way out of the egg in order to build the muscles to survive. If she passively accepted her state of being in the egg, she would die.

The struggle for survival shapes and creates us. Of course, sometimes we must give up the fight. Nobody wants to die flailing and screaming, although I suspect I might be one of those who do not ‘go gently into that good night’. I will probably resist until the last moment, when I surrender myself to God with a completely open heart. And perhaps, we are supposed to surrender to God on a regular basis, just to remind ourselves who is in charge. Resistance might be futile, but it is so very human. I am here to be human; I am not God, nor do I aspire to be a spiritual leader.

There is something liberating about stating that you do not have a clue how something works. I do not understand the overall design of the Universe, how consciousness works, what God is, or whether or not enlightenment is possible. What I love is the process, the ‘seeing through a glass darkly’. I suppose I adore the mystery, the fight, the illumination, and the falling into humanity and ignorance, only to climb back up and start the process all over again.

May you enjoy the journey as well, and if you find yourself enlightened along the way, send me an email explaining how you got there and what it feels like. I’m guessing not like I’m feeling now. I want iced cream and a nap.

Your house doesn’t need to look like this to be haunted.

I’m writing as a representative of the best paranormal team on the planet: The Paranormal Housewives. I have tried to post this on our regular website, but I ended up blocked due to too many attempts to remember our password. So . . . I am here to help you, dear reader, figure out if you might benefit from contacting us. If you’re anywhere in Southern California, we can arrange a free visit and investigation, if that’s warranted. If you’re not, then maybe I can help you decide when it’s time to call in the professional teams (contact us via Facebook–send us a private message).

People tend to assume that in order to justify a call or message to us, they need something really dramatic to happen. A ghost must have appeared, something must have–mysteriously–gone up in flames, you need to have heard your name called out at 3:00 AM, or there must be other distinctive evidence. That’s not necessarily true; you can suspect or know that spirit activity is happening in your house based only on your intuition, your feelings, or your physical reactions to being in the house.

If you have ever walked into your house and felt that someone or something was watching you, that’s enough reason to contact a team. If you have felt followed, observed, or you simply sense the presence of someone in your house, that’s enough reason to contact us. Manifestations of spirit activity can be very subtle, and that doesn’t make them any less real. The hair might stand up on the back of your neck when you walk into a certain room; there might be large temperature differentials from one area of the house to another; or, your cat or dog could be sensing the energy in the house and reacting as if under threat.

Why would you call us? Let me start with what we DO NOT do: we don’t banish or force spirit entities or energies to leave your house, simply because nobody has the authority to do that but them and their Creator. Typically, we can educate you in terms of what we think the activity is centered upon, and what it’s trying to accomplish. Sometimes, your ghost is simply a recording of a traumatic or emotional event that is playing itself out in mindless repetition; sometimes, the ghost is trying to tell you something that it feels you need to know–in that case, we might be able to help you decipher the message, via audio recordings, photographic or video data, or other evidence from our multiple devices. If you are open to the ‘sensitives’ on the team, (I believe we are ALL sensitive to spirit energy, especially if we train ourselves to be open) they can give you their interpretations, as well. Sometimes, the spirit is centered on a certain person in the household and feeding off their chaotic emotional energy, which can result in poltergeist-like activity such as missing objects, moving furniture, or even spontaneous fires or strange liquids dripping down walls.

99% of the time, your spirit manifestations are benign or neutral. One of the best services that we offer is to reassure the homeowner that there is nothing to fear, and that they have control over their own space. There are various options for ‘clearing’ a space and taking back your authority in your own home–we can show you how to do this, depending on your particular manifestation of spirit activity. It is always better for the client to learn how to control her environment than for us to swoop in and do it for her.

To sum up: we investigate, arrive at theories and hypothesis as to what is happening in a home, we present all of our data, we educate the client as to what the paranormal is and is not, and we show the client how to regain a sense of peace and control in her own home. We do all that for free, because we believe that this is a sacred service, our calling, and we don’t want to turn home investigations into a business. We do, however, gratefully accept donations of cookies, tea, or other food items! Investigating can be very physically draining in addition to spiritually exhausting.

So–if you are wondering if we might be of some help to you, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Go to Facebook, find the Paranormal Housewives under ‘groups’, and send us a private message! We will respond, typically, within 24 hours.

Much love and light to you.

Kirsten (and Erin, Marsha, Jennifer, and Kimberly)

I threw myself in the dirt. I was face down in the pebbles, surrendering to the Universe, the Cosmic Consciousness, God, the Holy Spirit, all of it. “I’m sorry,” I cried, for my vanity, my insecurity, for my fear, my anxiety, my [humanity] said God, finishing my sentence. “Why do we have to rot and die? Why? [To be angels] It said, leaving me with more questions. The lights behind my closed eyes were oozing into patterns, swirling, morphing, and changing from red to dark red and back again. “I surrender,” I repeated. “You, whatever you are, can have me. All of me. My body, my soul, my spirit, my mind, take all of it.” The lights behind my eyes intensified and morphed yet again, and the pinprick of white light grew larger and larger until it overwhelmed me. My body shook and twitched; I gasped. My little mind provided a distant soundtrack: “This is big, this is really big, don’t forget this.”

I clawed at the dirt. Dirt was in my mouth, all over my clothes, in my hair. I wasn’t in control of this. I surrendered, and now I had to go on this journey. “I don’t want to lose this world; I love this world. I don’t want all of this to go away.” My tears mixed with the dirt on my face and fell to the ground, and now I was wallowing in mud.” [I will never take the world away from you. You will always have the world]. “I’m afraid of the next life, I’m afraid to leave this world,” and then:

[This is the next life]

It, She, He, They, impressed into my mind the understanding that the next life is now. You can’t lose the world, because there is no one to lose it and nowhere for the world to go. This experience is always. This experience is what you might call eternity. It’s impossible to lose.

After this message, I gradually moved myself into a seated position. I was covered in dirt and pebbles, drool and tears. I walked at a snail’s pace to the Frog Pond, thinking that if this is already the next life, and I will never lose the world, and we are to be angels, then somehow we must be fallen. We perceive disease, pain, age, dying, death; it certainly seems real to us. We base our entire lives on this fear of non-existence and falling away; all of our ambitions, our obsessions, our acquisitions, our striving, and our relationships become hedges against this decay, corruption, and pain that we see as inevitable corollaries to the End of the World, which, of course, is our personal end. Or so we think.

This path of time leading to disease, death, and all other horror stories is an illusion. We believe in it; we share it with others; we can’t will it away; and yet, it’s not ‘real’ in the sense that it is based on appearances, perceptions, and beliefs that have nothing to do with the truth–with actual reality; the fundamental nature of the Universe. There’s no time to drag us to the grave, but we believe that there is, and we measure ‘it’ in various ways, ignoring the fact that we can’t prove that what we think we are measuring has any independent existence. There’s no ‘before’ and ‘after’, save for that we all create together as narrative. We have to create stories to make sense of our experience. The stories become shared reality. The stories become the illusion that we privilege, the facade that directs us away from the immediacy of lived communion with the real.

We are fallen angels, trudging through the world with dirty, broken wings and rusty halos. We don’t for a moment think to ask ourselves who we actually are. We prefer the dirt, the drama, the scary stories, to the truth. Eternity is a far scarier concept than ‘resting’ in a hole in the ground, oblivious to it all. Nobody really wants to be conscious forever; and yet, we are. We always have been. We forget that over and over again, as an Inconvenient Truth. Our little identities, our fragile egos, all that we hold onto and advertise to others so that they, too, may envy our worldly possessions and superficial pleasures, cannot withstand the blast of Light that places us squarely in the realm of always.

So no; Kirsten will not lose the world a second time, or however many times she was convinced that God wrested it from her. God never took anything away; nothing ever goes away. I, for one, want to remember my connection, even though it’s brutally painful to realize. It hurts to be corrected, to be shown yet again that one is wrong, and worse still, to feel guilty and unworthy of a life without end. There is so much to overcome. I can be forgiven, perhaps, for feeling overwhelmed.

Just as I hope any readers who are left will forgive me for finding writing so hard. I won’t stop telling you all the truth, even if you never believe it.

–Kirsten

The Cathedral in Granada, Spain

When I arrived in Madrid, it took about 16 hours for me to realize that I was in an environment where I had lost my persistent sense of isolation and anxiety. I was suddenly in tune with myself and my surroundings and moved freely through the maze of streets as if I had been there forever. I knew where everything was (I have a mental map of the city from when I lived there in my 20s), and if I didn’t, it was no more than a 20 minute walk and a map to track it down. People were everywhere; it was noisy, rather polluted, chaotic, and generally intense; and I loved it. I felt like a fish that had been returned to water. I knew how to swim there, how to move with crowds and traffic, how to find the right tienda ecologica, which tapa to order, and how to speak Castilian with just enough edge and confidence to throw people for a loop concerning my national origins.

We arrived in Granada a few days later. Once again, I experienced that odd sensation of well-being, that intimate familiarity with a place I hadn’t seen for more than a day when I was 15 years old. My husband and I moved in to our ancient apartment near the old Moorish walls of the city, and we set up our lives in short order: bought a throw rug, filled the fridge with jamon serrano, eggs, Spanish tortilla, olives, olive oil, butter, baguettes, black teas, spices, Manchego cheese, dark chocolate with coconut and cinnamon, and vine-ripened tomatoes. Whatever we needed for our new home was easy to find on Elvira Street, the oldest and longest Moorish street in the city. There were cafes, multiple kebab joints and traditional Spanish restaurants, bazaars, tea and spice shops, pastry places, bars, tabernas, hotels, hostels, spas, flamenco bars, hole-in-the-wall clothing shops with brightly patterned yoga pants and exotic incense, and places that sold tiles and assorted gadgets. Within days, we had traversed the entire city and figured out where all the churches, convents, monasteries, mosques, and historic buildings were located. We experienced them all between masses and other religious rituals. We lingered at the Alhambra twice, savoring the sacred geometry and avoiding the selfie-stick tourists. We visited San Juan de Dios’s official museum and found the Arabic baths. We saw a flamenco show that brought tears to our eyes. Every day was filled with wonder and discovery, and we never drove anywhere. Ever. For any reason. In fact, we were unable to leave Granada. There was no reason to leave.

The first day back home in California, I found myself in the car, alone, driving from one errand to the next. It felt like I had been driving forever that day, yet it was a typical day in my life here. The number of miles I log on a daily basis is like driving to Sevilla from Granada every day. I didn’t speak to anyone at all the first two days that I was back, not until my husband came home from work. Nobody was walking around the streets, the distances stretched out for miles, there was no plaza, no old shops, no ancient church where bald priests read the paper in the confessionals. It was Starbucks, then Sprouts, then the gym, then Vons, then home for a nap; later, the car made more rounds around Chatsworth in search of the right Spanish ham (never found it), and lastly, I ended up at Rite Aid looking for hand cream and hair mousse. For the last several days, it’s so quiet and I’m so alone, that I end up talking to myself in Spanish just to hear a human voice. People are very nice at Vons and Starbucks and Rite Aid, but nobody engages in long conversations with me on, say, the relative merits of jamon serrano versus jamon iberico.

I have friends. I meet them for lunch sometimes, driving, always driving, to meet them at some far-flung restaurant in Camarillo or Buena Park. I go to Meetups, driving, always driving, to places like Santa Monica where I’m in company for an hour or two, and then back in the car to drive home. I drive to work today, and I spend a few hours alone in my office before going to a meeting. I hear that the Administration has cut our class offerings–again–for the Fall. I hear depressing news about our enrollment, retention, drop rates, success rates, and so on. It all seems surreal. Everything the last few days back home feels odd and fuzzy, somehow unreal. The three weeks in Spain felt like I had returned to myself; there were no missing pieces, no grief, no ongoing, pervasive sense that something was wrong. It felt like finding your family, your community, after years and years of inhabiting a foreign land where nobody really spoke your language.

The United States is a famously lonely country. The latest survey discovered that 52% of us feel isolated and lonely, by far the highest percentage in the Western world. I have never much felt at home in the U.S., and not for lack of trying. Sometimes, you figure something out about yourself that you almost with weren’t true because it’s going to force you to confront your own compromises, excuses, and justifications: I didn’t travel for 14 years because I was afraid to fly and afraid, more than anything, of what would happen to me if I discovered I was happier somewhere else.

So yes; I discovered that I’m happier in Spain. Nobody is really surprised, actually. I guess I’m not, either. But that means that I have to think about rearranging my life and perhaps admitting to myself that the root cause of so much of my unhappiness might be the fact that I feel like a stranger in a strange land here in the U.S. and always have. The solution to loneliness? Simply this: figure out its cause. Then, make some decisions.

–Kirsten A. Thorne

How Humans Create Time

Quantum consciousness?

 The issue that has kept me up for the greatest number of nights is, of course, time and its relationship to entropy. Entropy APPEARS to create the arrow of time; I use the aging and death example as the most obvious result of entropy and our clearest link to something we call ‘time’ passing. However, if Lorenzo Maccone’s theory is true, the processes of increasing and decreasing entropy happen all of the time; in other words, events ‘undo’ themselves on a regular basis. The way we store memory, however, excludes the possibility of recalling any event or circumstance where entropy decreased. Therefore, due to our selective memory processes, we only see ourselves as ‘falling apart’ due to the laws of thermodynamics, leading to the rusting of our physical bodies and our eventual decline. However, the opposite processes could be happening–there are scenarios where we are growing younger–if you define younger as a state of lower entropy in the cells of our body–yet, our brain could not record those instances as memories due to the fact that memory only records events correlated to higher entropy, events which appear to have ‘results’ or represent change. 

The idea that there are entire realities where our scenarios are radically different from the one that we are currently experiencing seems hard to accept, but it resolves the entropy problem without attempting to define something that for all intents and purposes, has no independent existence (time). Entropy is the only process that appears to create an ‘arrow’ of time, since the physical processes involved move predictably towards dissolution (from highly ordered to disordered, or towards uniformity in a closed space, resulting in the breakdown of the physical organism in the case of old age). If, however, we don’t remember the instances when entropy decreased, we would only be able to perceive events and processes in the same way, i.e., as ‘moving’ forward and causality based. Event ‘A’ appears to cause event ‘B’, but only because we have correlated higher entropy states with causal change. In reality, we are selectively perceiving events and creating meaning that is not inherent in those events at all. 

The following is a quote by Robert Lanza is his most recent article debunking the notion that quantum gravity is responsible for the “arrow of time” perception:

As the direction of the arrow of time is associated with the increase of von Neumann entropy, the observer A is simply unable to recall behavior of the subsystem A associated with the decrease of its von Newmann entropy in time. In other words, if the physical processes representing “probing the future” are possible to physically happen, and our observer is capable to detect them, she will not be able to store the memory about such processes. Once the quantum trajectory returns to the starting point (“present”), any memory about observer’s excursion to the future is erased. It thus becomes clear that the discussion of the emergence of time (and physics of decoherence in general) demands somewhat stronger involvement of an observer than usually accepted in literature.” 

Memory depends on certain ideas and assumptions: first and foremost, that the ‘past’, ‘present’, and ‘future’ somehow exist as separate categories of spacetime, and that memory can only store (somehow) past events and circumstances, not future ones. To remember a future event would imply that the human brain is capable of ‘storing’ it somehow, and we are not wired to recall or be aware of events that are not tied to quantum decoherence (quantum decoherence brings quantum systems into a classical state). Does a decrease in entropy make quantum decoherence impossible? If quantum decoherence creates or makes possible memory storage, then yes; no memories can form if no wave functions collapse to create the necessary traces of ‘past’ events. In other words, events that appear to move backwards would reduce entropy, and therefore leave no trace of ever having happened–therefore, no memory could form of an event undoing itself. If the new memory theories are valid, and the brain is a quantum-based organism, then decoherence would create memories and would therefore be dependent upon entropy increasing. Decoherence could not occur (and thus no memories created) if entropy were to decrease. The quantum state would remain in flux; the wave functions would never collapse. 

You and I, as observers, collapse wave functions and bring reality into focus. This assumes, of course, that consciousness plays a fundamental role in creating our sense of reality, time, and causality. If indeed our observations–or our interaction–with a quantum-based reality creates what we experience and remember, then it’s equally clear that we don’t remember most of what happens to us. Any event or process that involves a decrease in entropy would never make it into our memory banks–how much of our lives have we forgotten?

What follows is pure speculation on my part, and it’s quite possible that my status as layperson will lead me astray in terms of the science; so if a reader knows that my ideas are not supported by physics or any other field of the sciences, please let me know. We only perceive our lives to be moving forward due to the association we have created between entropy and events we associate with it. For example, if I have a new wrinkle on my face, I assume that the wrinkle is directly related to time passing, since I don’t remember seeing it before. I also associate the wrinkle with decay, since I know that collagen breaks down ‘over time’, a direct result of entropy: things fall apart, they don’t come back together. My wrinkle, then, is evidence for time, because I am comparing two events: my face without the wrinkle, and my face with the wrinkle. I project into the future the reality of more wrinkles and more collagen collapse, because that’s the pattern I am observing. I compare, sequence, and make assumptions about the future, because aging is tied to the appearance of the wrinkle (more wrinkles appear when entropy increases). I remember my face without wrinkles: the image of myself with a smooth face is burned into my brain as a reality that ‘happened’. 

If we make no assumptions about the process that I have described, it looks different. If I had no memory of my face without wrinkles, then I would have no reaction to the image in the mirror. It would signify nothing. Meaning is created via memory. If there is no memory, there is no change and no time, as there is nothing to compare our current experience of reality with. What is memory? A trace that an experience leaves behind in the brain (and this is not a given; nobody really knows where memories are ‘stored’) that can be accessed in the present moment every time we activate the memory. Actually, we’re really only remembering the last time we remembered, creating an infinite regress whereby the original ‘event’ is totally lost (or existing somewhere else in the present moment). The only memories that can be successfully ‘stored’ and recalled are those which involve the ‘falling apart’ or ‘cooling off’ or ‘disorganizing’ processes of entropy. When we throw the ball at our friend, hit his head, witness him howl in pain, and suffer punishment, we are witnessing entropy in action: it creates the illusion of cause and effect, energy output and heat loss, action and reaction, first this happened and then that was the result. This is how we create stories and narratives and assign meaning to events (never throw a ball at someone’s face or you’ll get into trouble). Because there was a consequence to the action, it appears that time is involved. Action A led to Result B, and that can only happen where time moves forward. 

And yet. All we have here is a series of events. Is it possible that multiple scenarios played out that day? Perhaps I was punished before I threw the ball. Perhaps the injury to my friend happened at the same time I threw the ball. Perhaps I never threw the ball and nothing happened; or my friend caught the ball, and no injury resulted. Maybe the whole scene played out in reverse. I would only remember the scenario that resulted from the Second Law of Thermodynamics. All other scenarios would vanish into the ether, or perhaps play out in the infamous multiverse. 

Infinite scenarios played out that day, but the fact that I only remember one of them is required to live a human life. We are, in part, biological creatures who must obey the natural laws of the universe. If we could remember all the scenarios that were created that day, we would be paralyzed by infinity. We could not organize our lives, could not function in material reality, and would never learn that there are natural consequences of our actions. The moral imperative would vanish if there were no cause and effect. If I can commit murder and that murder is only a crime in one of the multiple scenarios that split off into infinite dimensions, there would be no “I”, no sense of self, to experience the horror of taking someone’s life. Any action of mine would instantly become trivial, since it would result in multiple outcomes, none of which I would take any responsibility for. 

 The main point, then, is that the sense of self depends on the illusion of time and causality. At the level of ultimate reality, there is no time, no space (check out Julian Barbour’s THE END OF TIME), no causality, no actions resulting in consequences. Events shift around and reconfigure in infinite patterns. It is consciousness that organizes and arranges events into time and space. We create the past, move through the present, and anticipate an illusory future. We can all agree that the future doesn’t exist; yet, we don’t see how we’ve experienced an equally illusory past. The only evidence of the past shows up in the present moment as traces of various kinds. Those traces can only point to themselves; we have to grant the traces (memories, documents, photos, records) existential meaning and authority in the now, via a consensus community. You cannot point to something called the past. You can only point to the traces of it in the present moment. You call your own mental processes the ‘past’ because you ‘remember’ the events in one, specific way. Our sense of reality is based on comparison to others’ sense of ‘what happened,’ on a created continuity between events and experiences. 

Many would argue that it is the broad, ontological agreement among us that proves the reality of time. I would argue that consensus creates reality itself based on a shared understanding that time exists and our lives follow a sequence and a chronology. Our human brains filter, reduce, manage, and organize information in very similar ways; it’s what they’re designed to do. But we shouldn’t confuse our physiology with reality itself. We only understand the world in a certain way during normal, ‘ordinary’ waking consciousness; however, there are multiple states of consciousness where our brains stop creating the world in the particular way they do when operating in consensus mode. For 6-8 hours a day, we are in an entirely different state of consciousness where all the rules regarding time, causality, space, and reality are suspended completely. We don’t consider that to be abnormal or extraordinary. We simply don’t know how to navigate and comprehend altered states of consciousness. We don’t get the ‘rules’, and we don’t know how to share that state with others, so we decide that anything that happens, anything that we experience in these ‘other’ states of consciousness is somehow false, unreal, and tells us nothing about the how the universe might actually work unbound from our sense organs. 

We confuse our sense organs with reality itself. It’s a basic mistake. The universe is far more complex and creative than our brains allow it to be. I believe that there are ways to expand our knowledge and understand of reality that extend beyond the information that we can glean during our normal, waking hours. Just what that might look like or how it might happen will be the subject of future posts . . . 

So stay tuned, dear readers, if there are any left at this point!!

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

I had this brilliant idea to write about Lanza’s Biocentrism theories, tackle his ideas regarding time, discuss the withering criticisms he has received, and make some grand statement regarding my beliefs . . . and after a quick search, I realized that I had written about ALL of that before; in May of 2012, to be exact. That sent shivers up my spine, thinking that maybe I have officially run out of new things to say or novel avenues to explore. After all, I’ve stated more than once that after my big ‘direct experience’ illuminations, there’s not much left to say. However, I have at least another 43 years on the planet, so the spiritual search can’t truly be over. I have to give this another shot. 

I still disagree that the moon isn’t there if no conscious observer is viewing it. Lanza seems to believe that all of material reality is created by us. Did he ever address the fact that quantum experiments have demonstrated that no conscious observer is necessary to collapse a wave function? On the other hand, his critics fiercely attack the very idea of consciousness not arising from brain functions, and make equally radical statements regarding promissory materialism (one day, we’ll explain everything, including the hard problem of consciousness). If you want to sound smugly superior to Lanza, Chopra, or anyone with whom you disagree about the nature of consciousness, just employ the term ‘woo’ to describe your rival’s theories, and you will magically appear logical, scientific, super smart, and way too sophisticated to be taken in by crazy, New Age crap like disappearing moons. But I digress. 

As a language teacher, I often wonder about critics who turn nasty. I think the venom and insults come from a place of fear and misunderstanding. When one’s world view is challenged or threatened, we generally result to a defensive posture. Lanza and Chopra place consciousness in a primary position and equate humans to God, in some respects; that detonates insecurity and outrage, resulting in linguistic smack downs on the part of the existentially aggrieved. However, the real problem is that we don’t know what we’re talking about when we use terms like ‘consciousness’ and ‘awareness’. Words are referents, of course, but sometimes the concept we are referring to is so nebulous as to defy consensual definitions. We rely on a community of peers to validate reality, which is another way of saying that we rely on said community to agree on what words mean, what they ‘refer’ to; we all struggle with what ‘consciousness’ points to, how it’s experienced, and what could possibly ‘produce’ it. In addition, we assume that only one form of this nebulous concept is valid, i.e., ‘normal, waking, consensus consciousness’. We assume that one state of consciousness can give us all accurate and substantially similar versions of what we experience ‘out there’ in the world, and that we can accurately communicate that reality to each other and assume that we all agree, mostly, on what’s observed. 

We define reality itself based on a linguistic agreement that our words refer to the same phenomena out there in the observable world. Where we find consensus, we discover what is real and quantifyable; but, all we have done is discover that we agree on the proper language with which to discuss and analyze what we experience. It can never be anything but an approximation, an inexact description of what we perceive. We confuse our translation of experience into language for reality itself. In other words, you and I agree on descriptors for a rose bush, and our five senses appear to be giving us the same feedback (again, based on communications between us), so we assume that the rosebush is ‘out there’ and real, because we can compare notes, talk about it, bleed from the prick of the thorns, inhale a lovely fragrance, and so on. Our common culture understands the experience of the rosebush a certain way; we name things according to our language and our shared use of that language, and therefore that rosebush is materially real, because we have enough consensus to declare it thus. 

But let’s say that I dreamt of a rosebush, and in that dream, the roses have emotional and symbolic content that is later explained by a Jungian therapist and disciple of Freud. Suddenly, the rosebush becomes the expression of blooming sexuality fraught with the dangers of unbridled desires (thorns). Does my dream rosebush exist? It does for me and the representatives of psychoanalysis; there is a community of professionals out there who can interpret the rosebush that I experienced in an altered state of consciousness. But, you might argue, that rosebush is a product of my mind; I am the only one who experienced it in that particular way. But what of all the people who have rosebush dreams? There are more than just a few of us. Is our dream flower unreal? Materialism requires a consensus and real, physical effects; but what if several of us who have dreamt of roses were all deeply affected by the experience and were healed of deep, emotional scars resulting from sexual repression? 

Could it be that all rosebushes, no matter where or how we run into them, are products of the mind? We privilege waking consciousness as the only state of mind that can provide information on the ‘real’ world. Imagine for a moment that you and five of your friends ate a few grams of ‘magic’ mushrooms and were told to observe a rosebush. In an hour or so, you would all be gathering data on that rosebush that would be unavailable to those operating in ordinary consciousness. Does that mean that there is far more to a rosebush than our ‘normal’ awareness is capable of perceiving? If those flowers become infinitely more complex and expanded, then which version of the rosebush is the ‘true’ one? Are we seeing the ‘real’ rosebush when our consciousness allows enlarged perception, or when we’re dreaming? Or, as the materialists would argue, is the rosebush only as real as our consciousness is ‘normal’ and our community is in agreement? What if all of the psychedelic observers notice similar phenomena affecting the presentation of the rosebush? Does that mean the rosebush is something other than what we perceive it to be after the psychedelic effect has faded? Does a fly see the same rosebush? A dog? A squirrel? A praying mantis? Of course not. Yet whatever they see is not included in ‘reality,’ because reality can only be defined by sober, sane, culturally homogenous human adults who speak a common language and share common assumptions. 

The more one considers ‘reality,’ the more it seems clear that the outside world clearly exists outside of us, but is a product of interpretation and consensus. The fact that material reality APPEARS stable and consistent (I know that the same drinking glass I used last night will still be sitting on the counter in the morning) and is subject to entropy in predictable ways (I know what kind of mold is going to grow on the cheese I left in the fridge, and I know approximately when it’s going to start creeping across the edges), makes reality testing fairly simple for the sane, sober, adult, human participating in the Western scientific paradigm. We are so good at reality interpretation that we almost never have to wonder if the sun is going to come up or if the cat will barf on the rug. These things are bound to happen; reality is predictable. 

Ah, but not always. Reality can crack and bend and warp in many, many, ways. I have written extensively on how what we assume is real melts away or transforms into something that does not follow the rules. In the end, the world is a collaboration. There is something out there, clearly; we can call it a rosebush or a moon, but there is a reality that swarms around us in constant interplay with our brains and spirits. It’s a creative vortex of information that we organize and label for our convenience. There may never be a single rosebush out there, but rather a multilayered one shimmering in and out of multiple dimensions and imagined and reimagined by all the creatures who ‘see’ it. And while the thorns prick our fingers and make us bleed, to the aphid it’s just another mountain to climb on the way to the paradise of nectar that awaits in a few hours’ travel–not that time means anything to an aphid. 

I do realize that I strayed far from Deepak Chopra and Robert Lanza, but only in appearance. I like to think that this would make perfect sense to them, and that I have summarized at least a small portion of what they’ve been saying all along. As to what I ‘believe’, well, everything is a collaboration and a creation. I appreciate the fact that the world appears predictable and solid and that I know what’s on T.V. tonight. I also know that it takes very little for that illusion to break down and fall apart, only to reconstitute itself in the next moment. I am happy that it appears time exists, so that I can make plans, dream of the future, review the past, and watch us all move into new ages and adventures. I need the appearance of space and time and objects and events and things and cats and people, and I would not give all that up for anything in the world. Except that I will give it up, just like every, single, living creature on this planet. Death will strip away all the illusions for us and hurl us back into a place where we will have to awaken completely from the material realities that consume us. Will we miss the rosebush? 

Or will we, like the aphid, have an entirely new reality to explore, forever cradled in the softness of the petals and the intoxicating scent of what might be eternity?