INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
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The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental HealthElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over a hundred published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He's currently the director of the Transpersonal Psychology Program at Akamai University. He has also written a number of self-published books, including Numberama: Recreational Number Theory In The School System, Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis And Exposé, and The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. Elliot enjoys playing the piano, tennis, and ballroom dancing, and can be contacted at ben496@prexar.com. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.


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INTEGRATED METAPHYSICAL REFLECTIONS

Stimulated by Frank Visser's
“Near-Death Experience” Article

Elliot Benjamin

I found Frank Visser's recent Integral World article New Light on the Near-Death Experience? [1], to be interesting and provocative. Visser focused upon the near-death experience research of Pim van Lommel, and included a description of skeptics and believers regarding parapsychology that he referred to respectively as “hawks” and “doves.” Visser characterized himself as a “dove who is very much interested in what hawks come up with.” I can relate well to Frank's self-characterization, although I am probably somewhat closer to the center than he is. In this article I would like to offer some of my own reflections on these metaphysical issues, based upon my recent experiences at a Soul Survival workshop at the holistic retreat center Omega in New York State, in which I was able to gain first-hand experiences with some of the foremost celebrity spokespeople in the world in the areas of near-death experience, past-life regression, mediumship, and mysticism: respectively Raymond Moody, Brian Weiss, John Holland, and Joan Borysenko.

In particular, my workshop session with Raymond Moody, who is the founder of the scientific study of near-death experience, stemming from his world shaking book in 1975: Life After Life [2], was enlightening in a shocking kind of way, as I will describe below. But before doing so, I would like to first stress that my use of the word “integrated” in the title of this article does not mean “integral” in the context of Wilber's quadrants, lines, levels, etc. Rather, I am using the term “integrated' in the context of a number of my previous Integral World articles, which is consistent with Wilber's original intention and description of integrating diverse perspectives into a coherent philosophy [3], and can be considered to be a modest portrayal of Wilber's original motivation. In my previous Integral World articles I have described my integrated perspectives on combining art and science, humanistic and behavioristic psychology, psychology, philosophy, and politics in regard to Obama and the war in Afghanistan, etc. [4] In this article, the integrated metaphysical perspective I am coming from is one that combines Visser's description of hawks and doves regarding parapsychology.

I attended my Soul Survival workshop as part of my research practicum for my doctoral psychology program at Saybrook University, in which my specialization is Consciousness and Spirituality. My research is in the context of Heuristic Self-Search Inquiry and makes use of Autoethnographic Inquiry [5], which in simple terms means that I am delving into my own subjective personal experiences in order to shed light on the phenomena that I am studying. This is qualitative research on the far end of the spectrum, and of course is not taken seriously or considered to be anything approaching scientific research by the psychology mainstream. However, I believe there is valuable material that can be uncovered by this kind of self-immersed research that is central to this research methodology, and there are a few schools in the country in which one can undertake doing this, after rigorously demonstrating one's academic competence to do so. This was the point that I had reached when I got approved to undertake this research for my research practicum at Omega, as part of my experiential exploration of the phenomenon of life after death. The following are some excerpts of what I experienced at Omega:

“Session 1: Raymond Moody: Last night the program began with Raymond Moody. I was immediately struck by my perception of Moody's extreme intelligence….Moody skillfully, effectively, and convincingly made a strong case for his research demonstrating the weaknesses of the biochemical theories of near-death experience…., and he gradually became more and more animated as he came to his conclusion that it was becoming increasingly more difficult to deny the reality that it looks like life after death is a real phenomenon. He talked about the true meaning of the word 'skeptic,' dating back to ancient Greece, where it meant having an open mind to alternative conclusions through a heightened and more developed sense of logic….When Moody described the absolute place of highest importance in which he held logic, and his expectation that it may eventually be possible to scientifically 'prove' the veracity of life after death, I listened to this with some reservations, as I believe that logic has its limits and needs to be transcended in order to gain deep knowledge and wisdom. My viewpoint is quite similar to that of Ken Wilber, who described 'vision logic' as a higher level of consciousness than rationality ([6])….

But what was most surprising to me was that Moody never mentioned parapsychology and 'super-esp' alternative theories as possible explanations for the phenomenon of life after death ([7]). He described how frequently family members of the dying person would have the same near-death experience as the dying person. This would have been the obvious place to include the possibility of super-esp in the form of a heightened use of telepathy and clairvoyance…I decided to try to ask him what his thoughts were about super-esp as an alternative theory that could possibly explain the phenomenon of life after death….I was given the microphone to ask the last question of the evening….And I must say that I was quite shocked by Moody's reply to my questions about super-esp. Moody said that he did not place any stock in parapsychology and that he furthermore considered it to be 'bogus' science. He did not believe that parapsychology was 'real' science, or that its laboratory methods were able to give us any real knowledge…

Now I understand why Raymond Moody did not talk about parapsychology and the super-esp theory. My whole doctoral program at Saybrook and my intended doctoral dissertation was in effect totally discounted by Moody as being irrelevant and naïve. However, Moody's conception of parapsychology was limited to the strict quantitative laboratory context, which indeed is the dominant focus of parapsychology research, but it is not my focus….I was very disappointed at this anticlimactic ending to what until then had been a superb two hour lecture by this world famous originator of near-death experience research 40 years ago. It struck me as hypocritical for Moody to view parapsychology in such a closed-minded and narrow-minded perspective, in comparison with how he had described a true skeptic as being open to alternative conclusions by means of a heightened sense of logic….

Session 2: Brian Weiss: Brian Weiss certainly believes in reincarnation and the veracity of past-life regression experience ([8]), but I found him to also be much more open-minded to alternative perspectives regarding his beliefs than Raymond Moody was. Weiss described how Moody portrayed his Greek philosophy definition of a true skeptic, and this spurred me on to have an independent communication with Weiss during the break. I proceeded to tell him about my disappointment with Moody's closed-minded response to my super-esp alternative theory question, and I remarked that I appreciated Weiss' more open-minded perspective to alternative theories to explain past-life regression experiences, inclusive of Jung's collective unconscious and access to the Akashic records. Weiss fully engaged me and acknowledged that he too found Moody to be surprisingly rather closed-minded, in regard to the possible veracity of past-life regression and reincarnation in general. I said that Moody's closed-mindedness seemed hypocritical to me, in regard to Moody's Greek philosophy definition of a true skeptic, and Weiss did not disagree with me. However, he also said that there was a valuable and enormous wealth of knowledge in Moody's work, and he encouraged me to pursue studying this with an open mind. This felt comfortable and like good advice to me, and I felt much more settled and at peace after my thoughts, feelings, and disappointment about Raymond Moody's condescending view of parapsychology were so respectfully and personally acknowledged by Brian Weiss….

Yes--the Brian Weiss past-life regression workshop was very meaningful to me, and it has given me much personal material to dwell on for a long time. But did it make me any more open to the possible veracity of the phenomenon of life after death, which is still my central research question? In the same context, did the Raymond Moody near-death experience workshop make me any more open to this? My answer somehow or other, is 'perhaps a little.' Hearing Moody's personal and vivid portrayals of his 40 years of near-death experience research, and experiencing the strong and emotional impact of my imaginative parapsychology researcher identification with Frederick Myers (one of the key founders of the Society for Psychical Research in the 1880s), somehow reminded me to keep an open mind and be a true agnostic. But what I still need to experience is once again something concrete in regard to feeling contact with someone who died….

Session 3: John Holland: So much for calm and relaxed celebrity Soul Survival workshop presenters. John Holland was the epitome of the theatrical fast-talking exceptional stagecraft medium. He had the hundreds of people at the workshop eating out of his hands, and I now understand how the publicly acclaimed large audience mediums like John Edward, James Von Prague, Suzanne Northnup, etc. have become so extremely famous….Holland went from one person to another in master craftsman style, putting out a suggestible question and waiting for the inevitable number of hands to go up from the people in the audience who 'understood' the suggestion….

In terms of my original quest to explore the veracity of the phenomenon of life after death, I feel a combination of relief, sadness, and humor. I feel relieved that Holland didn't single me out in the audience and that I did not get any further personal material to work on, as my past-life regression workshop this morning with Brian Weiss is still having much impact upon me….I feel sadness that so many people are convinced of Holland's authentic abilities as a medium, and put their vulnerable needs to make contact with their departed loved ones in Holland's hands….I have some very real suspicions that John Holland may be fabricating what he is conveying to vulnerable others, and I would not bet money against the possibility that he is intentionally deceiving the public in order to make himself rich and famous. And lastly, I feel a certain amount of humor that Holland has been able to pull this off, if he is indeed making expert theatrical use of cold readings and subjective validation ([9]), as I suspect he may very well be doing. I see Holland as a superb actor and spiritual entertainer, and it strikes me as somewhat humorous that so much of new age America and the world have put him up on a spiritual pedestal….

In all fairness to Holland, I must say that he appeared to me to be much more decent and ethical, and much less theatrical, when he was not on stage, and when he was having individual interactions with people. I asked him the same question I had asked both Raymond Moody and Brian Weiss--about alternative super-esp explanations of life after death, and Holland took my question in stride with a respectful acknowledgement of my skepticism. Of course he believes completely in the veracity of the phenomenon of life after death, but he did not disagree with me that anything is possible as an explanation. When I asked him how he knows that there is an afterlife as a certainty, he said it was because he sees the personalities and images he gets of people who have died. I felt satisfied with how Holland responded to me and I did not feel the need to explain to him how the super-esp theory can also account for seeing these personalities....Although I still have strong reservations that spirits of dead people made themselves known in his public medium session, I am willing to now give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that like virtually all the mediums I have so far encountered in my explorations, John Holland sincerely believes what he is conveying to people. His parting words to me were witty, appropriate, and true, as in response to my asking him about how one can ever know whether or not there is life after death, he said: 'You will know when you get there,' and I responded: 'You will too.' He laughed in a good-natured way as we said good-bye.

Session 4: Joan Borysenko: Joan Borysenko's style on stage was very different from the other three presenters, as she positioned herself to sit comfortable and gracefully on a high stool and tell us a few impactful stories from her own life that illustrated how she found spirituality and mysticism. Borysenko is deservedly famous for her mind/body work and she somehow manages to harmoniously combine her expansive knowledge in the fields of science, medicine, psychology, spirituality, and mysticism ([10])….Borysenko stressed how essential it was for us to gain our spiritual insights and realization while we were still alive, and to not expect that we will be magically transformed when we die if we do not transform ourselves first when we are still alive.

As the other three presenters, it was clear that Borysenko also believed that life after death was real, and since I had asked the other three presenters my super-esp alternative theory question, it seemed only right that I ask Borysenko my question as well. And this is where the biggest surprise of my Soul Survival weekend happened for me. I asked my question during the break, and Borysenko looked deeply into my eyes, peering into them with her own deep blue eyes that were captivating me in a way that I had no desire to resist. Her reply was very simple and elegant; she said 'I just know.' Her simple but deeply earnest reply took me off guard, and I attempted to qualify her response, saying something like she must believe in life after death by faith. Borysenko immediately said it was not a matter of faith, repeating to me that she 'just knows.' When I said that for me the problem of accepting my experience comes up when I try to interpret it, Borysenko said something to the effect of 'I don't interpret, I just know.'….Then Borysenko put out her arms for us to hug,….then the next thing I knew, Joan Borysenko kissed me on the cheek….

By the time I returned to my seat, I felt like a changed person, as my entire state of being at this workshop was transformed. I felt a lightness, youthfulness, and vitality that I had not felt the whole weekend….my deep-down gut level feeling was that there was some kind of bona-fide mystical, spiritual communication happening. The way Joan Borysenko conveyed to me how she 'just knew' reminded me of a brief depiction that I somewhere read that described Carl Jung giving essentially the same response when he was asked if he believes in a bona-fide spiritual world. He said something to the effect of 'I don't believe--I know.'….Joan Borysenko has reminded me of the 'experiential' part of my heuristic experiential explorations, and I am very grateful to her for this.” [11]

CONCLUSION

The skeptic and the believer, the hawk and the dove, are all part of me when it comes to parapsychology, mediumship, and exploring the phenomenon of life after death. But in the spirit of what I have referred to as an integrated perspective, these parts of me have room to harmoniously coexist and nourish each other. I can fully feel my skeptical resistance to believing that any kind of bona-fide communications with the dead took place in John Holland's large audience mediumship session. I can feel my disappointment in Raymond Moody's condescending view of parapsychology as “bogus science,” which appeared to me as blatantly contradictory to his inspiring portrayal of the ancient Greek version of a “true skeptic.” I can feel the personal impact on me of Brian Weiss' past-life regression exercises, even though I attributed my experience to my imaginative fantasies rather than to any kind of bona-fide past-life memory. And I can feel the mysticism from Joan Borysenko reaching me beyond her words as she conveyed to me how she does not believe but “knows,” in a way that somehow had impact upon me beyond my ordinary mind.

Putting all this together, it appears at first glance to be quite the disharmonious hodgepodge of contradictory elements, inclusive of skeptical rejection of mediumship while accepting the non-rational “knowing” of full-fledged mysticism. But it does not feel disharmonious to me; rather it feels “integrated.” I can be skeptical in the best sense of the word, as Raymond Moody eloquently described the true skeptics of Ancient Greece, and I can be open to experience mystical communications that somehow have an impact upon me beyond my rational mind. This can all fit into my disciplined inquiry research in the context of heuristic exploration of the phenomenon of life after death, and I believe that this kind of integrated perspective is rich and alive with possibilities of gaining deep knowledge to further my understanding of the metaphysical phenomena I am in the process of exploring,

NOTES

1. Frank Visser (2010). New Light on the Near-Death Experience? Unique Research of Dutch Cardiologist Van Lommel Gets Worldwide Attention. www.integralworld.net

2. Raymond Moody (1975). Life after Life. Covington, GA: Mockingbird Books.

3. See for example Ken Wilber's first book (1977): The Spectrum of Consciousness. Wheaton, Ill. Quest Books.

4. My previous Integral World articles that describe my integrated perspective are as follows: Obama and the War in Afghanistan: A Psychological, Philosophical, and Political Integrated Perspective (2009); Integral with a Twist: Integral Psychology vs. Humanistic Psychology (2007); An Integrative/Non-Integral Psychotherapy Model (2007); Integral vs. Integrative: A Response to Scott Parker (2007); My Conception of Integral (2006). www.integralworld.net

5. See Clark Moustakas (1990). Heuristic Research: Design, Methodology, and Applications. London: Sage; Sandy Sela-Smith (2002). Heuristic Research: A Review and Critique of Moustakas' Method. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 42(3), 53-88; Carolyn Ellis (2009). Revision: Autoethnographic Reflections in Life and Work. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

6. See Ken Wilber (1995). Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala.

7. See for Example Stephen Braude (2004). Immortal Remains: The Evidence for Life after Death. New York: Rowman & Littlefield; Alan Gauld (1982). Mediumship and Survival. London: Paladin; Harry Irwin & Carolyn Watt (2007). Introduction to Parapsychology. London: McFarland; David Fontana (2005). Is there an Afterlife? A Comprehensive Overview of the Evidence. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: O Books. Michael Sudduth (2009). Super-psi and the Survivalist Interpretation of Mediumship. www.sfsu.edu/~pphlsphr/files/SurvivalMediumship.pdf;

8. See Brian Weiss (1988). Many Lives, Many Masters. New York: Simon & Schuster.

9. See R.T. Carroll (2005). Subjective Validation. The Skeptics Dictionary: http:skeptic.com/subjectivevalidation.html; Ray Hyman (2003). How not to Test Mediums: Critiquing the Afterlife Experiments. Skeptical Inquirer, 27(1), 20-30.

10. See Joan Borysenko (1988). Minding the Body, Mending the Mind. Philadelphia: Perseus; Joan Borysenko & Gordon Dveirin (2007). Your Soul's Compass: What is Spiritual Guidance? New York: Hay House.

11. The above excerpts are from Elliot Benjamin (2009). Research Practicum: An Autoethnographic Inquiry into the Phenomenon of Life after Death. Saybrook University: Unpublished Manuscript.




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