It’s been a while and I think there are more details and other ideas to explore behind my hypnopompic hallucinations. There are new developments and I would also like to comment a bit on the paranormal.
In the last nightmare post, I mentioned I was a skeptical agnostic, but in discussion and as I have become involved in debate I think it might be clearer to state I am an atheist. It might be clearer still to state I am an antitheist or even a “radical atheist”. When Penn Gillette was asked what he meant when he declared he was a radical atheist he said, “Not only do I not believe in God, I don’t think you do either”. This may seem a bit of a lurch to one side from skeptical agnostic to antitheist or radical atheist, but I think it is more of a wearing down of patience or tolerance. Certain aspects and ideas I formerly would give a pass, have been cancelled out with a bit of scrutiny leaving agnosticism behind. When you see someone who claims to believe in God, or even think they believe in God, showing no practice or signs of those beliefs, even acting counter to the ideas and doctrines of those beliefs, can you really say that that person believes? I would answer no. Not that I blame anyone for this infidelity or faithlessness the doctrines and mandates of the Gods are horrible.
This new, more stringent stance may seem surprising in light of the fact my hypnopompic hallucinations, my personal hauntings, have taken on new dimensions.
In 2008 I suffered a back injury, due to drawing, that became dangerous and had me crippled for about a year. I underwent back surgery, which turned out very well. Three days after surgery my older sister, Robyn, was diagnosed with cancer. Robyn passed away in June, 2010. I can’t recall if it was the 4th or 5th as my memory about Robyn is still unsteady. It doesn’t really matter to me which day. Those types of details don’t really stick with me but other minute details of that time seem over powerful. The day following her death I stayed at my parents place. I went to shower and it occurred to me I could barely recall who my sister was, or whether I had had a sister named Robyn. The next day my father also seemed to have a disconnect with reality as he told me it finally struck him that the doctors weren’t going to call and tell him everything was going to be okay. Needless to say we were falling apart.
My family and I had a very bad couple of years. Before my sister passed away, when she was still undergoing chemotherapy, I was recovering from my surgery. The year of intense pain from my injury had knocked me off balance in a number of ways. I suffered pain delusions for several months. These are hard to describe. When I would sit for a time, any length of time, the idea I was about to be in pain would slowly coalesce. I would become convinced if I moved I would be in excruciating agony. It would take several minutes before I realized I was in a sort of trance and then recall my back was better now and it didn’t hurt to move. Sometimes these trances or delusions would last almost an hour. Another effect was my sense of time was warped. When in pain I spent a good deal of time counting down. Not sure why I did this. When I was hurt I was able to walk roughly ten paces before I’d have to drop to the floor. During the waves of pain I would count down how long it took for the pain to become endurable to walk another ten paces. When walking was no longer an option and the pain was like my legs and genitals were being crushed all the time I would count the seconds for no clear reason, but as if approaching some point where it would pass. When I was recovering this counting of seconds and the sense of elongation brought about by the pain left a mark. My sense of time is still not quite recovered.
Aside from these oddities a personality change had occurred and this was fairly subtle at first. My emotions were strange. At times they were absent. At other times the slightest thing could set me weeping. I’ve never been an especial fan of men weeping, even when it became acceptable and encouraged among SNAGs (Sensitive New Age Guys). Weeping seems like a natural enough thing but best held for tragedies and the like. It seems too much like a plea (and a drug) for my taste. But during that time, and too often now, I would weep. I’ve heard various explanations for this involving stress, PTSD, and even a side effect of surgery (apparently both Robin Williams and David Letterman both described this as a side effect after heart surgery, facial expression expert Paul Ekman described this after a back injury.) Whatever the reason there it was. At the same time depression set in, alongside, strangely, exhilaration and relief as I was regaining the strength in my legs.
When my sister’s condition declined my emotional state could be described as a long held breath. On Robyn’s last night many things I recall and can’t clean from my mind shocked me. The next day, as Robyn’s permanent absence was being realized, I started to have some problems with my memory. These problems progressed over the next week, and beyond that I have to say my memories are very poor for the next several months. My memory was hobbling. I would lose days and wonder where I had been. I would forget people I have known for decades, and I started having flashbacks of the moments before my back surgery when the most painful event occurred (my nurse told me they were afraid I was going to drop dead from the pain so held me a few hours longer just to monitor and make sure I didn’t stroke.) These were disturbing and happened a couple of times in public.
I wanted to give this background on my physical and emotional conditions to provide a setting in which to place my changed experiences with hypnopompic hallucinations. Following my sister’s death my hallucinations stopped for a time. They had become sporadic when I was injured, seeming to fall to some lesser priority for my brain to manifest and then handle. This is good as jumping around the room at that point wouldn’t have been ideal. So for a time my sleep disturbances were minimal.
Around September 2010, my memory was starting to stumble back to usefulness and this was about the same time my nightly visitors returned.
A strange thing happened every night, and still happens frequently. When the lights were out my brain immediately turned to dark and mournful things. I would suddenly recall, and say out loud, “Oh my God Robyn is dead!” as if it were just registering for the first time. It was like a solution to a long considered conundrum. When the lights were on the sensory input seemed enough to distract me until I slept, so I often slept with the lights on. I don’t sleep well with lights on so eventually I started turning them off in the middle of the night. Still, if you pass by my home and see the lights on you know it is a bad night for me.
In the dark my visitors started to appear again. But instead of rushing at me or attacking, they would stand in dark recesses, peaking out behind things, standing solemn and menacing in dark corners. For some reason my emotional state was such that I would wake and see them and think “Oh, I’m hallucinating” and casually go back to sleep. Sometimes I would think : “That one looked really interesting, I’ll have to remember that.” I seemed to be building immunity to these things, like germs, and like germs they started to become more virulent and multiply. One night I woke and looking across my room to the darkened recesses of my closet and my master bathroom, I saw several things. It hadn’t occurred to me before but my previous hallucinations had always been lone visions. I would have a single attacker or visitor. But then there were two or more. These things were monstrous and deformed. And as I woke more fully they didn’t disappear. They moved and shifted and stared at me. I got up calmly and went to investigate the more clear and disturbing of the two things (in the master bathroom) and it retreated and vanished.
Before I go further let’s consider something, above I said “as I woke more fully they didn’t disappear.” Don’t accept this as the idea that as my thoughts cleared and as I became more lucid the things I saw maintained themselves. When I say “I woke more fully”, that is a rough description of an experience, not a physiological description. My experience was that I was mostly awake. But I was actually just as groggy and still half asleep as usual with these things. Let me explain what I mean. Over the last few nights I have had some rough sleep. I go to sleep and then wake up suddenly thinking “Wow, I slept a long time!” I’ll look at a clock and 20 minutes will have passed. I’ll actually pause and think “Did I sleep 24 hours?” But no, my perceptions are misleading me. So unless my clocks and the rest of the world are conspiring to trick me into thinking I haven’t slept for 24 hours, I’m misperceiving events. It is the same with the above description of my multiple guests. There may have been demonic monsters lurking in my rooms but that seems less likely (far less likely) than that I was half asleep and hallucinating…especially as I was still recognizably far from awake. I say more fully awake, but by that I mean still largely asleep just more awake than I was a few seconds before. If monsters or anything or anyone had been in my rooms at that moment and I were awake my reactions would have been very different.
The visitors and monsters have become more and more clear and my reactions are becoming more violent, as I am accustomed. I’m taking this as a good sign in a certain respect. I was so lethargic and depressed, that terrifying things were almost uninteresting, passing novelties. But I am starting to become more lively, and interested in my well-being as I sleep. This may not seem so good to you as you read this, but signs of life for me are a relief.
But as I mentioned these things seem like germs in some respect and as my immunity builds the hallucinations have been escalating. Now I have them on occasion when I am awake. This is disturbing in many ways. First and foremost being, I’d prefer not to go insane. Second, I would prefer not to go partially insane. Seeing hallucinations isn’t necessarily a sign of insanity as you may know. It has been pointed out in a number of books and as neurology becomes more expansive and interesting, that we spend a good deal of time hallucinating. The way we perceive is in large part hallucinations and “filling in blanks” where our sense organs are lacking. The gap of vision in the optic nerve, stitched over and invisible (not even a scotoma) is often used as an example. Likewise environmental factors such as electromagnetic fields and infrasound (infra sonic frequencies of 18 or 19 hertz for example ) are known to cause hallucinations and these factors are common in every home with electricity and appliances and in nature. Add to this sometimes your brain just misreads, or hiccups without long term effects and stabilizes. Still…sometimes when you hallucinate it means you are going insane.
The hallucinations I experienced were like this: I came home one day and saw several people scatter across my apartment from my living room, as if I had interrupted something. I immediately ran to catch any and everyone. I was ready to fight. My heart was racing and I could feel the adrenaline rush. But no one was there. A shiver went down my spine. I think this shiver was a confrontation with the unexpected and uncanny. I had expected to find people as I had just seen them, and there was no one. This disappearance was uncanny. I looked all around the apartment, still somewhat convinced someone was there, and then when I was satisfied I was alone, I sheepishly noted I had hallucinated. One hallucination doesn’t bother me. As I mentioned above it isn’t really uncommon, and may be inevitable. I figured it was my turn.
A few days later I was working on a project at my computer. It was about 2 am. I saw a woman walk out of my bedroom. I jumped up from my chair. I saw her long enough for her to pass from my central vision to the periphery where she disappeared. I say a woman, but I have to admit what I saw wasn’t clear enough to be a woman. I had the “sense” it was a woman. Now this sense may be impressive or disturbing to read, for me when I read about anyone having a “sense” of something my skepticism becomes highly active. Sense generally means “vague”. And so it was here. I saw something vague, and my mind filled in the details suggesting (and only suggesting) it was female. My brain did the best it could, in other words, to clear the confusion of the moment. I remember it as a woman walking out of my bedroom, but if you were to ask me about her features or feminine qualities I would be at a loss. It was murky. And it was murky in a way I am very familiar with. I once spent a year and a half creating a painting that can induce a hallucination. It does this by causing a confusion in optical information and the way our brains make patterns (I didn’t invent the hallucination or optical illusions I just applied them to that particular painting.) At a point in the hallucination you’re sense of what you are seeing become a vague gray or even something like a grid pattern, or clouds, until your brain settles into the hallucination. When the grid pattern it isn’t really a geometric grid, it is a vaguery that your brain suggests seems like a grid. It could also seem like cottage cheese in a very highly contrasted light- Chiaroscuro cottage cheese. In other words murky.
There have been other similar incidents. People, or things flashing in my vision causing a moment of alarm. My consolation in this is I almost immediately feel somewhat embarrassed and think “Great, another hallucination”. The more they happen the less worried I become as long as I can stabilize and recognize that it is a hallucination.
I would like to point something out here: it is important to pause.
Recently I’ve been spending some time researching the “paranormal”. To me this seems like a logical progression from my usual areas of study in religion and mythology, as well as human perception. Beliefs don’t interest me much as I think belief is not the issue with ideas of the supernatural or religion. There are other matters more elusive and tangled that seem to drive our ideas of the “other world”. These ideas are traditional, exciting, uncanny, and often stupid. This last descriptive may seem harsh but I hope to demonstrate how stupid is the appropriate word and also show how far we stretch and contort and frankly debase ourselves to attain little mysteries.
It is important to pause. I say this because of the old axiom I just made up “The first idea is the worst idea.” When my sleep disturbances occur they are generally frightening or disturbing and I usually react violently. Because of this I have injured myself several times, scared and disturbed others and destroyed objects. This is my knee jerk reaction to a situation. And if this were an animal attack or even a real attack this type of behavior might save my life, which is why I don’t completely frown on my behavior. But to carry this initial sense of emergency and panic forward is less acceptable. Reason follows after instinct, by about half a second, which seems a survival tactic for days when dire emergency was more frequent (I’m writing from a fairly peaceful location, I’m certain this survival tactic is getting full exercise in other places.) But this puts reason at a disadvantage, the force of emotion often does. This is why it is important to pause especially when the emergency has passed. In my terrified moments after sleep I think I have been attacked by monsters, demons, intruders etc. But this is not an idea that should be followed once reason is restored.
When I first offered over the essay about my nightmares I heard from many people. It was much more interesting to people than my essays on art (which may just mean my essays on art are boring). People sent me email and asked me questions in person. These interactions had a common theme: “I think those things are real” or “How do you know it isn’t real?” The latter question I’ll address shortly as it is a deceptive method of approaching anything and only comes up in discussions of the supernatural.
First, let’s look at the general theme: Are the entities attacking me in my sleep real? Reality in this sense I think differs from existence. If we were to ask if these entities exist I would have to answer yes, and then point out the special circumstances involved with existence- Yes they exist as hallucinations assembled in my mind. This means they have no material reality, and no existence outside the working of my brain. So are they real? No. They have no material reality they are not material facts, they have no power or force to act on things, and no agency outside my brain. They are imaginary. Many of the “spiritual” may here insist material isn’t everything and press the idea these things have spiritual existence and reality. When pressed for details of this spiritual reality or any ideas at all about what is meant by spirit the conversation disintegrates. I have yet to hear anyone describe spirit who doesn’t refer to materialism. For example, the spirit is something higher than flesh (or materials or bodies). Higher is a reference to placement of material things in order from top to bottom. It refers to bodies of some or another sort and their importance. All the speakers are saying here is “Spirit is better than material”. This is simply the speaker saying they feel their beliefs are superior, they aren't supplying any details or descriptions about the difference between the materials and spiritual. Another take by the spiritual is to suggest that these entities are real spirits but that spirits are not materials and spirit is beyond human knowledge. If it is beyond human knowledge how would they know? They must know something about spirits as well as the boundaries of human knowledge to make such a statement. So when they know they don’t and when they don’t know they do. This idea isn’t very convincing as it makes no sense. But when I let this pass and ask if the visions are spirits, how is it I “see” them? My materials are reading (or in this case misreading) them. On occasion when I move quickly with a hypnopompic hallucination the hallucination moves with my eyes as if they are a movie projector. My brains ability to “track” while hallucinating is imperfect. So while I move my head or eyes, so too move the entities. This would seem strange for an independent spiritual entity to want to follow, awkwardly, the motion of my eyes and head.
The suggestion these things are real is troubling to me in a couple of directions. The first is the seeming hope these things are real. Often people are clearly excited by the idea monstrous uncanny things are attacking me. They don't seem to be excited by the idea that the attacks are specifically aimed at me, but rather that these supernatural possibilities exist. They are so enamored by the idea they are willing to sacrifice reason and clear thinking to maintain the fantasy. The second troubling thing is the ideas around what is attacking me. When I ask after what the nature of the things attacking me may be, the variety in descriptions of humbug is stunning. I have heard these things are ghosts, demons, beings from other dimensions, angels, people's ill will in some manifestation, witches, etc. Sometimes the word "energy" comes up, but this term is always applied as a filler when nothing is meant. I'll ask after energy and there is never any clear idea, but the phrase "You know energy can't be destroyed it can only take on different forms". When I pursue still further pointing out how eating and absorbing food is an easy example of what is described by that phrase, but we don't assume many ghosts for our food, or consider that the cheeseburger we are eating still has the thoughts hopes and dreams of the cow, or the latter thoughts of the vegetables that the cow transformed into milk and we made into cheese. How is the thought that energy changes form and isn't destroyed helpful to the notion of spirits? I don't see any connection. I understand the confusion in a way.
But let's say these ideas are somehow correct if confused and difficult to describe. Let's grant every idea here. Let's say it is all possible. I am under attack from the spirit world. What would this mean? One of the biggest problems, from my perspective, is why me? I don't mean to suggest "why must I suffer this burden?". I mean what is their interest in me? These supernatural, sometimes famous, entities are taking time out of their presumably busy schedules to drop by and visit, often with the apparent attempt to do me harm. Though I do have my moments of arrogance and self involvement, I'm not so self involved to think that I am the center of interest for the great powers. I seem to be of great interest to the above listed super beings while at the same time I am of little interest to my fellow puny humans. What is so interesting about me, especially when I am at my least interesting-when I'm asleep? When seen from this point of view it seems suspiciously like hallucinations with a sturdy dose of self interest. In reality predators even enemies have some successes and eventually desist or succeed in destroying the focus of their attacks. My attackers perpetually fail, are persistent, and on occasion turn into chairs, shirts on hangers, or other mundane object. Even with this type of reasoning people want to believe it is other, sentient, beings.
I try other lines of reasoning such as, if my visitors are real, they have exactly the same attributes, evidence and effective powers as nothing. The counter argument is that they do induce fear. No, they don't induce fear. Often, the fear is present as I dream before "they" arrive. There is no THEY. As I've pointed out, the hallucinations differ in character, form and theme. There is no consistent attribute tying my hallucinations together except when they occur and that they seem interested in me (on occasion even this isn't the case.) So "they" being unrelated to each other in most respects might not be looking to cause fear at all. If we survey them in their variety and strangeness they seem like the disjointed and random stuff of dreams. And like dreams they leave no traces, they don't communicate anything clear, and if the things I saw were to manifest in reality in a solid and tangible way, my responses would not be so strange and exaggerated. The they do not seem like a single family of things but, like partial fleeting thoughts, they do seem random, vague and often weird.
These "attacks" are hallucinations. That is what they are. If we follow what I am seeing reasonably, we can't come to any other conclusion. All others fall apart or need endless extension. This is where "well, how do you know they aren't real?" appears. This is mostly a dishonest question. When eating a sandwich it is rarely asked "how do you know it is a sandwich?". This is because sandwiches have few supernatural hopes driving them so don't need any open ended questions to sustain the dream of supernatural attributes. The above type of question, the how do you know...question is not actually seeking an answer. Because if the person asking were actually interested in an honest answer they would look for the solution themselves. That is, to honestly consider a question, upon hearing the witness accounts, you don't ask, how do you know. You take a fairly objective stance and investigate. How do you know? Is a statement by the speaker saying, I choose not to accept that because I prefer a different outcome, so I will attempt to ask an unanswerable question, or an ever extensible question to allow my obviously incorrect assumptions a stay of execution. It is a question signaling stubborn ignorance.
Now it may be the suggestion here that I am not open minded. And there are some clever responses invented by other people: "I'm not so open minded my brains fall out" or "it's good to be open minded but not so open minded the wind whistles through.". But I'll skip this type of response and try something a bit more to the point. I am closed minded. For some strange reason the metaphor of open and closed has been applied to the manner one addresses ideas and a certain amount of judgment is implied by close mindedness. As if it is a meaness or discourtesy. But I am closed minded, and to stay with the metaphor here is why: I don't open my mental door recklessly to any and every idea that comes knocking. The ideas must demonstrate they have integrity and merit before they get beyond the threshold. They can't be crazy, false or stupid. I prevent the trespass of bad ideas by questioning and examining and often waiting for further evidence before I let an idea through. Open minded to me seems a synonym for foolish.
By this I mean to say I am not at all open to the idea that my hallucinations are anything other than hallucinations. I have no cause to believe they are other things than hallucinations, especially things that have no clear definitions or concepts even to the people who think they are real. I do have many, many reasons to think they are hallucinations. Notice I'm not saying "only hallucinations" as if diminishing the importance of hallucinations compared to say some really important thing like ...ghosts. I hear this a lot. "Only" is often improperly placed. Only material, only this (meaning the material world), only human etc. Usually the "only" is being used to describe something so profound we can't grasp it, unlike say, ghosts and demons which can be easily understood and easily dismissed. In my case my hallucinations are important to me, and not an "only". Only here would be used for ghosts, alien intruders, and demons. If my nightly disturbances are these things they are completely ineffectual. It would be another way of saying supernatural things are completely silly and impotent. Hallucinations have widening and personally important implications. Implications for my mental health, implications about how the brain constructs reality, implications on emotion and perception, implications for art, etc.