Part three of six parts
Part III: Accepting Nietzsche’s Challenge
Against this backdrop, our deeply personal preoccupations with such questions as, “How can I harmonize my right and left brain functions?” may seem like selfish, petty conceits. But what I am arguing is precisely the opposite: We do not have the luxury of dismissing or ignoring our own inner warning systems. Nature is speaking to us and through us. Our individual quest for balance and harmony is the expression of a wider and deeper wave of positive change, just as surely as our individual acts of ignorance and greed contribute to the mess we’re in. It works both ways. After all, we have to start somewhere.
As I mentioned earlier, my own search began with a (mostly unconscious) yearning for connection with the lost, “magical” parts of my self. This yearning triggered a disturbing upheaval of right-brained activity, including a number of odd experiences that did not fit my standard, left-brained definitions of rationality–or, for that matter, of reality. The questions continued to pile up.
One night, for example, I dreamt that I stood in the living room of my friend’s house. My friend was also there. She was trying to tell me something important, but I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. When I awoke in the morning, I suddenly recalled that I’d forgotten to take my evening dose of an antibiotic that had been recently prescribed for a nasty upper-respiratory infection. Later that day, my friend casually asked me if I’d remembered to take my medicine the night before. I confessed that I’d forgotten. “I tried to remind you last night,” she said, “when we met in the living room.”
This sort of thing was unnerving. Was it sheer coincidence? That seemed unlikely. Perhaps our subconscious minds had communicated telepathically. Or maybe we had experienced a shared dream. But what did that mean? How could a mere dream be shared? Or had we both slipped out of our respective physical bodies and met in her living room?
Then there were the golf-ball sized pulsating globes of light I sometimes perceived near the ceiling just before drifting off to sleep at night. Although I couldn’t say how I knew, I sensed that that these lights were “friends” who were checking up on me to make sure that I was all right.
Was I “all right”? Well, it hardly seemed so. I was worried that I might be having a nervous breakdown. But I also half-suspected that all these disturbances might be tied to my growing sense of frustration with my academic career, which began to feel as confining as a too-tight collar.
I knew better than to go to my professors for help. All of them subscribed to one or another form of Answerism (mostly of the Scientistic variety). So I knew they would have regarded my experiences strictly as symptoms of mental dysfunction. I was on my own. It was sink or swim time.
I did, however, manage to get thrown a life preserver. It came in the form of a local second-hand bookstore. Located in the rear of the dingy shop was the “occult” section (as it was called back then). I usually had it all to myself.
In a way, perusing those shelves transported me back to my childhood, when I’d been fascinated by phenomena like ESP, UFOs, and ghosts. I’d always had a mystical side when I was younger, mostly expressed in feelings of oneness with nature and powerful dreams. Now, once again, I found myself poring over books on paranormal phenomena. Only this time it was pure need that drove my research. I was hoping to find some instruments of navigation to use in this rough and mysterious sea into which I’d been unwittingly pitched.
It was during one of my regular forays in that second-hand bookshop that I came across a worn paperback copy of a book entitled Journeys Out of the Body, by one Robert A. Monroe. The cover described the author as “a Virginia businessman” who, in 1958, “began to have experiences that drastically altered his life.” I was hooked.
As I skimmed the chapters, I could tell that the author was a sober, sensible, highly intelligent individual who’d had some truly extraordinary experiences–far more dramatic than my own. These strange episodes had challenged his most cherished beliefs. But instead of sweeping them under the rug, or sensationalizing them for personal gain, he had turned himself into a human guinea pig by testing himself and his perceptions. Then he wrote up the results of his investigations in this objective, yet fascinating report.
It suddenly struck me that this was exactly what Friedrich Nietzsche had said was the only worthwhile human project: to make our lives the subject of an ongoing inquiry into the nature of the self and its reality. “We ourselves want to be our experiments and guinea pigs,” he declared. (23)
This Monroe fellow was living proof of the possibility of following such a rigorous and demanding program. He had, in effect, accepted Nietzsche’s challenge.