“Flatliners” and Larry Dossey’s “Healing Words”–My occasional confrontations with the hinterlands of science and belief

Have you ever been in need of a sort of “spring tonic” for what we call, for lack of a better word, the soul (but I’m almost sure you have, who hasn’t?)?  Of course, we don’t all call it “the soul,” some of us call it “being in need of a personality overhaul,” others of us call it “a desire to take up a new hobby of some kind,” “being depressed for no particular reason,” “feeling under a curse,” “wanting psychotherapy,” “feeling lost,” etc.  This state I’m speaking of can take place in the comparative absence of anything objectively wrong in one’s life, so that it may happen in a condition of extremity in general or just when suddenly for no particular reason one feels deeply out of sorts.  It may also happen for specific reasons of an emotional or spiritual nature that we have long ago despaired of having any control over.  And when it happens, it happens just as often unpredictably as it does when we expect it to happen, and for differing spans of time, both long and short.  My own condition of “soul-lethargy” goes back in time for several years, but it hasn’t been uninterrupted by better times.  In fact, during the last few years of finishing up my thesis and getting my doctoral degree (in 2012), it was noticeably absent, but returned intermittently when I no longer had that particular kind of energy occupying my time.  Every time I work well on my novel(s), it goes away for a little while, until I once again hit a snag.  It’s easy to get dragged under by a sense of sterility sometimes, especially when work isn’t going well, someone is sick (either I or someone close to me), when I am too busy with work-a-day affairs and don’t have the time to assess things properly–in short, this condition is a sort of lack of attention to my inner being which may come about for a variety of reasons.  If left alone long enough, it can cause a sort of “soul sickness,” not the same as something mental or emotional, I don’t think, but feeling just as debilitating if not more.  And it’s sometimes accompanied by very unpleasant side effects.

For example, one of the most frequently occurring negative evidences these days is a hypnagogic nightmare of a sort of black tangle of bad energy hovering on or in or near me as I struggle back into wakefulness to fight it, an angry, evil non-auditory snarl of sorts, which must be blocked out and done away with by a sort of internal prayer which I have learned to make rise from my consciousness (I know, it sounds loopy), the struggle going on sometimes for several moments, the bad energy making as many as two or three passes in a row.  This is not a mental or a physical event, is not accompanied by a speeded heart rate, or clammy palms, or waking hallucinations of any sort.  In fact, a hypnagogic nightmare occurs when one is in the earliest stages of falling asleep, and can simply wake one back up to deal with some startling effect of consciousness.  The awareness of the “ball of negative energy” as a non-pictorial, non-dramatized (by human dream actors) reality of a stage of sleep is a relatively new thing:  it’s not that I never before in my life had hypnagogic nightmares, but when I was younger, the occasional negative energy most of us at one time or another experience “blamed” itself on someone in particular, had an actual theme and plot and human or other living actors, people I knew, things, events, or animals I was afraid of, etc.  This, I understand, is the more usual pattern.  In a way, though it’s still bad news, it’s better to deal with a disembodied energy than to have to try and figure out later why such and such a person or such and such an event, possibly someone I like or something I enjoy doing, is the confusing source of negativity.  From this you may guess that though I’m an inverterate navel-gazer, I’m trying to break the habit of so much non-productive interiority and go instead for the more productive kind, whatever it may prove to be.

As well, there are times (rarer and rarer lately, but still happening sometimes) when I wake in the middle of the night (not in hypnagogic sleep, but after dreaming REM sleep); just after dreaming that someone is standing by my bed looking down at me, I’m terrified until I turn on the light and sit for about five minutes.  Though I’ve heard it said by others who have this sort of dream that this is in fact a normal and reassuring dream to have, and even that it indicates that someone at a distance may be concerned about you, I’ve so far never gotten over my fear of this kind of dream.  Where is she going with this disquisition on odd and unsettling states of mind, you ask?  I’m not sure that I can make my point well, but I figure it’s better to make the attempt than not to speak of something which I’ve found illuminating and perhaps allow you to share it, so here goes:

By and large, for the preponderance of my life, I have been a sceptic about spiritual beliefs.  I say “spiritual beliefs” rather than “religious beliefs” because I’ve always had a tendency to prefer things messy rather than cut-and-dried and rigid and in a prescribed shape.  People annoy me who believe things easily, or who seem to me too gullible; it’s as my brother often says, I feel no innate sympathy with “Gullible’s Travels.”  Still, there have been times of extremity in my life when I feel, upon looking back on them, that some creative urge has come without warning into my life just when I needed to be shaken up or in some way made to observe something other than whatever I happened to be fixating on at the time, particularly if it was something unhealthy or bad for me.  I wanted today to write about just two of these incidents, a time back in the 1990’s and a time just about a week ago (in both of which cases, however, the malaise preceding the incident of creative activity had gone on for some time).

During the first instance, I was deeply depressed by the bad fortune I’d had in my personal life, and was in an extremely strong funk and was disinclined to be forthcoming to even the most sympathetic friend or relative, most of whom had in any case already heard what I’d had to say and had been encouraging but not effective.  This was fairly usual, because I’ve often found my own personality to be generally intractable to influence once I really decide that I think or feel something strongly.  By chance, I happened to be in a group of strangers one night, and someone suggested watching the latest thriller out, the movie “Flatliners.”  For those who didn’t see this basically negligible thriller, it was about a group of medical students who were curious about the afterlife or the lack thereof, and even more curious about the near-death experiences of some case studies they’d read, in which people basically experienced a moment of death or near-death and then “came back” to life.  All the concerned case studies had apparently reported sightings or experiences of paranormal events or encounters with already deceased friends or relatives, and etc.  The medical students one after the other caused themselves to “flatline” (“die”) while the others stood ready to revive him or her after a given number of seconds.  The movie portrayed the startling experiences of what each encountered, but I believe the climax of the movie occurred when the young experimenters had difficulty reviving one of themselves.  I can’t really recall what happened after that, whether the subject in question lived or died, which may seem odd.  All that stuck in my mind was a strong impression of the basic story line:  even doctors had to admit that there was something beyond their materialistic universe, though no one, least of all I, could say exactly what or draw any solid conclusions from the fictional experiments.  Truth to tell, I’ve always been more impressed with stories and tales than with so-called “facts,” so perhaps it wasn’t a fair test of materialism.

There have been other times when I have needed something from what one could refer to as “the infinite” if one has that inclination (and I can at least tolerate the expression now without a total sneer), and it has stepped up to bat for me, though it’s not a regular occurrence by any means, nor one that I can just hope for and have it happen.  I can’t “deserve” it and make it occur, either.  I am probably the most surprised of all when it does happen, though whom I’m comparing myself to in that assessment, I don’t know.  This is the first time I’ve ever written anything about it, for example.

The other occasion that I found a book (in this case) to be of use (even inchoate, undirected, imprecise use) was a couple of nights ago, when I was in the process of reading Larry Dossey’s book Healing Words.  I can honestly say that I have never before read a book about prayer, have never willingly or deliberately allowed myself to be prayed for, though like everyone else, I’ve had transient moments in the midst of some turmoil or other when I appeal to a force I often profess not to believe very much in with a “Oh, god, let this turn out right!”  The most interesting thing about Dossey’s book to me wasn’t in fact any encouragement to pray or be prayed for, but was his open-mindedness to other states of being than the verifiable, materialistic world of science and medicine which rules so much of the world today.  He has apparently written other books, of which I had never heard, having only happened across this book on a library online website and picked it up sheerly out of a kind of curiosity, sure that I would be annoyed enough to drop it before long (you may recall in this connection that Ralph Waldo Emerson said “The power men have to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity”).  Instead, I finished the whole book.

Dossey did not become an advocate for any one religious system or belief, and in fact seemed to consider many alternative forms of healing under an umbrella of spiritual endeavor, whether they employed a sense of the named Divine or not.  That was what was so liberating about his book, the mere possibility that there are ways of doing things other than the dose, cut, and sew of conventional medicine, or at least that there exists a serious and valid accompaniment to the usual medical tools at most doctors’ disposal.  The book came in handy for me a night or so ago not in relation to any specific malady I had, but in one of my occasional nightly fights with the hypnagogic nightmare, familiar by now but never gladly tolerated:  I was able to reduce the size of the dark ball of gunk and rid myself of it in fairly quick order, and not because of any proclaimed “power of positive thinking” which had been “proven” to work–Dossey says such beliefs often lead to guilt when employed in this way because people are blamed for not believing enough or being “positive” enough to shake their malaise, whatever it is–but because I had allowed for the possibility in myself that whatever causes the negative energy is within my power to affect to some degree, sometimes.  And more than that, more than just ridding me of an inconvenient nightmare, the openness and simultaneous strenuous examining of the book helped me fight through some waking situations which I’m still engaged with, but which I feel a better hope of affecting positively now.

I’m not saying that I’ll automatically become rich and famous for my fiction, or find a lot of new friends and acquaintances in my daily life who are muy simpatico, or do something, anything, else which causes my life to be distinguished much from other people’s.  But now I feel, due to Dossey’s book in part, that people and their “souls” or “intelligences” or “personalities,” whatever one wants to call them, are what he indicates they are, continuous and not isolated, whole and not separate, and that is a very comforting feeling (or belief, or conviction) to be going on with, for now.

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