The only thing stranger than some of the more "esoteric" experiences I've had is the later attempt to talk with other people about them. If reality didn't seem confusing to me after my own experiences, the "subjectivity" of it surely became clear once I'd heard everyone else's versions of "how things really are."
When I finally began writing this, I was half-looking to write what I wanted to read: a first hand, honest case study, without too many assumptions, without defensiveness, without a need to prove anything. An account that would let someone objective see what was going on with the individual and make up their own mind. Not just a few "peak experiences," in the context of other collected stories that matched, but a personal development curve. Not just a few memories, but any accompanying physiology and psychology symptoms as well. Even the things that seemed to contradict the stories. Even the confusion. Even the things that just made it look like a mental aberration. Everything.
Not so we can learn "a truth about gods or aliens or [check one]," but so we can learn a truth about people. All the strange glamor of the esoteric experiences aside, they are foremost a study of humanity, of individuals. Without those individuals, there is no study of this field possible. Whether they are treated like liars or lunatics from the skeptical side, or like victims or chosen ones from the believers' side, none of those approaches are conducive to getting unaffected, honest data, none of them are fair to the individual, and none provide an open environment for learning anything new.
Meeting others with remarkably similar stories was both a fear and a relief. But the paradigms in this field are overwhelming. In practice, it's not just an experience people share, it's a religion. Many abduction groups have what can only be called a cult mentality, replete with leaders and theological belief systems. The mix with other fields, such as new technologies (many of which may or may not exist), 'channelers,' government involvement, etc., makes the whole 'Ufology' subject a chaotic minefield even for discussion, let alone involvement.
The emotional volatility of even supposedly objective researchers, let alone people in the midst of these confusing and upsetting experiences, can be almost frightening. Even for those without the experience issues, the logic-stretching that many folks pull off in their attempts to make other peoples' reality fit into their own mental-construct is amazing.
As for me, I've found that the more honest I am, the more it upsets people. From those who find the sensual and sexual angles disturbing, to those who insist I can't mention the occult if I want to be taken seriously, even the persons in this very field, promoting these very stories, have their own little box of "acceptable data" that they want others' lives and experiences to fit in. My willingness to address everything, from hallucinations and potential sleep disorders and schizophrenic symptoms, to shamanic symbols and dreams, from alien experiences to religious icons to Egyptian and occult symbolism -- my range of experience only seems to make people angry. Just as they think they have another story to add to the list of those supporting their beliefs, I tell of an experience they're sure contradicts (or invalidates) myself, or them.
As I have talked about this over the last year I have gotten email from many people simply amazed at "how rational" I am about all this. I admit I do seem a bit more psychologically healthy than many I have encountered. Though it's clear my thinking has changed dramatically over the course of these experiences, I consider the changes an improvement and additional insight. I've gotten letters from people who have spent years terrified about their sanity, some even drugged by psychiatrists to "cure their symptoms," who hear me talking about some of the same things and seeming so normal and intelligent otherwise. They write me email saying things like, "If you turn out to be a hoaxer, I'm going to want to kill you." It is no small affair, the psychological trauma these experiences, and the attempts to deal with them, can create.
About the only thing I can conclude after all this time is that we don't know what's going on, we have never known, and the only chance we have of figuring things out is to toss all our conclusions out the door and begin over again, taking absolutely everything as equal data for consideration. We cannot make intelligent decisions about what "deserves" to be considered data, let alone what deserves to be considered evidence. By thinking we can, we pre-choose the answer by pre-choosing the data. That isn't methodical research, it's justification of existing belief systems, and denial of anything to the contrary.
For example, in our attempt to make things like abduction "scientifically researchable," we have begun with the assumption that it is always "physical" if it's real. Western science neatly categorizes everything into either "fully physical" or "hallucinatory." Since it may not be limited to one of those two polarities (and there may be more options within those than we realize), that makes it easy to find details of memory or circumstance that are inconsistent by that measure, and by this, invalidate the entire experience, and the person relating it. Yet even crime witnesses get details mixed up, and this of fully physical experiences in "this" reality and state of mind, when there's often no doubt the experience truly happened. Imagine how much more trauma is involved when you are the center of the experience, and when the world around you is, at best, not what you recognize.
Mind you, I'm not saying that experiences are never physical -- they certainly are. And despite my open cynicism about modern 'abduction groups,' I would not suggest that hypnosis "creates" these memories. Since most people I know in this field have never been hypnotized about it (I have not), that's clearly not the case, despite the media attempt to make it seem so. I'm just pointing out that the desperate need for "validation" our culture has taken with study of "UFO/alien experiences," represented by the small number of "leaders" in this field, has led the public to believe these experiences are physical if they're "real," there's craft involved, medical research is the theme, and these experiences aren't remembered until someone is hypnotized.
From not only my own experience, but hundreds of people I've encountered from all over the world the last year and talked with about these things, I think I can say those assumptions are simply not so -- certainly not to the exclusion of all else, in any case, and in my opinion even when those issues do exist they may be less relevent than other aspects of the experience. It is harming the field and the study of this subject to let the public be misled that these things are "the way it is." If the only time people remembered these experiences was after being hypnotized, for example, I wouldn't believe them either!
A brief dip into the current field of "Ufology" is itself bewildering. To the delight of those who'd like to see this subject fall into oblivion, many of the existing "leaders" are far too busy trying to bury each other to pose the threat of accomplishing anything. The paranoia in this field is rampant, not just about aliens, but about the government, and about each other. Some reason for that may be created by one or more of those sources, but whatever the cause, it doesn't help the field. The constant political jockeying as people quickly attempt to disassociate from someone who is getting bad press, to point a debunking finger at someone else as quickly as possible, or to tie their theories or latest stories into someone else's who is selling books or the latest movie, would be amusing if the end result were not affecting people's lives.
For all the theories about "contact," the bottom line is that it is affecting people. In many cases, it is scaring people. In some cases, it is hurting people. From the personal issues of fearing for one's sanity, to the social issues of "coming out of the closet" about the experiences, to the religious beliefs and fears that come into glaring relief, to the psychological issues that are brought out in full force by this, to the physiological symptoms and mind-boggling 'paranormal' side-effects, it can be devastating, particularly when you combine all of those effects simultaneously. This is not improved by wanna-be gurus who will help you remember an invariably lousy experience, any more than it is by scientists and psychologists, our own experts and our best hope, insisting they won't study the subject because "they know there's nothing to study."
If we can't be professional enough objectively, let's at least be compassionate enough personally to look into what can be done to help people deal with the effects of these experiences, whatever their true cause. I'd like to spend less time searching for gods and aliens and more time searching for ourselves. It seems to me that in the quest for understanding our own species, the source of our experience may become more clear.
November 1, 1995
Bewilderness is copyright © 1993 to present to Palyne "PJ" Gaenir (palyne.com). See bewilderness.com.