An African American tradition of dream work and dream interpretation has a long history interweaving with other traditions and has specific roots in the continent and history of Africa itself. There are conceptions of the unconscious that parallel those of European traditions but in crucial ways are significantly different particularly in the perception of personhood and psychological boundary permeability in the dynamics of dreams and family life. These conceptions in many ways challenge traditional understandings of space and time but are also in keeping with the actual experience of dreaming and with certain quantum and relativistic conceptions of the relationships between space, time and, by implication, the range of consciousness itself. These are rooted in the African genesis of our species, both genetically and psychically, along with the shared reality of our neural inheritance. This paper is a conceptual overview of this tradition beginning with its cultural-historical roots to its clinical influence on practices today.
Keywords: Personalism, Ayanmo Concept, Amenta , Sekhem, Family Unconscious
The Intimate web
Despite the many things that divide us from one another in terms of race, gender, age, social class, religious sect or something else, there are never the less some more subtle dynamics of human experience that draw us together into a deeper web. Regardless of so called racial and ethnic differences we all still embrace, and sometimes cling to, some notion of family connectedness in our innermost personal identity. Family consciousness in all the groupings of our kind is deeply rooted in our biology as a species as it is in all the higher primates.
We also dream. Not only all the primates, but all the mammals, including the whales and dolphins, dream. For human beings, all of whom are of African descent, different case expressions of this genetic, biosocial and somatic or physical backdrop and web of experiences in family relationships, over time, both within and between individuals, gives rise to a kind of luminous matrix of interconnected relationships that reflect various personal meanings. It lends coherence to our day to day lives. Family consciousness in some form or other as a species seems to be fundamental to our emotionally bonded lives.
Finally there is deeply embedded in human experience on some level the now the firmly scientifically established fact that, biogenetically speaking, as a species we have all originated from an African template or base. We are all relatives and descendants of a single African female of some 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. It was she through whose gene pool all our human ancestors have passed. She is the so-called “Eve” or mitochondrial DNA mother of humanity (Vigilant et al, 1991,Templeton, 1992, Hedges et al, 1992, Forbes, 1992). In our deepest psyche each of us carries some form of her legacy in thought, blood and ,yes, genetic structure. She was the prototype for the rest of humanity and we suggest that her consciousness today still permeates our depth psychology.
The Eyes of Science
Now if there is any credence to the scientific idea that our genes do not simply unfold as random mutations but rather are intelligent organizing systems themselves that over time lead to higher and higher levels of complexity in the organisms through which they live, then surely this complex of genes of the mitochondrial DNA mother of humanity is a reflection of our collective and deeper expression of evolutionary unfoldment and destiny. It is a resonance that we all respond to. It is no wonder that all our civilizations have made a living god of her.
The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome are littered with forgotten religions and temples dedicated to her worship in the form of Isis (Hancock & Bauval, 1996,Diop, 1991). Throughout the human diaspora to other continents she psychically spread and found diverse expression in the Black Madonna of Poland, of Mexico, etc. The city of Paris itself was once an ancient temple of Isis, i.e., Par Isis. In our own day the preponderance of scientific evidence across multiple disciplines clearly points to this African genesis. Some have recognized the implications of this for modern science and religion. All of this sets up the backdrop for a new cultural and scientific theory of dreams which has deep roots in all humankind and modern expression particularly in the widespread African and African American traditions.
Dreams and the Family Connection
Family consciousness of all kinds moves through our lives, both darkening and illuminating our motivations, urges, emotions and dynamics. Like dreams, these familial processes are older and deeper than our individual consciousness sending its roots spiraling into the primordial structure and process of the human psyche itself. On the deepest level our psyche influences the body and the body in turn influences our minds. Both may unfold from an even deeper more subtle order of consciousness that, as modern science seems to support, at its roots is African in origin as are all its present day worldwide racial and ethnic permutations. This of course is our shared deep structured African Unconscious (Bynum, 2021). Our collective unconscious at bottom appears to be an African unconscious.
This new vision of the intimate interrelationship of dreaming life and family life is partially outlined in The Dreamlife of Families (2017). With a little attention it is easy to see how the streams of nightly dream life and daily family life enfold and interconnect with each other. We can see this in strikingly similar dreams and even family medical symptoms. Sometimes the dreams of family members are so uncannily close to each other in imagery and content as to call into question our common understanding of space, time, communication and separation or distance and psychological boundary permability. On a directly experienced level this moment to moment universe of matter, energy, persons and things that we actually encounter and experience become woven into an essentially conscious and living universe that is subtly imbued with a sense of personhood that we are conscious of.
This level of self-reflectiveness first became stabilized in our African ancestors and still lives as each one of us engages with the world. This stream or level of consciousness pervades the intimate world of our dreams. This African template of Homo Sapiens Sapiens or thinking man therefore is crucial from both paleoanthropological and genetic perspectives. It appears to form the genetic and physical or morphological basis for the study of human consciousness from a truly deep multicultural perspective, not essentially a European one with other people grafted on to it.
Given this deeper unity between us there is a still deeper identity we share despite our sometimes divisive ethnic and cultural consciousness. This is the shared reality of our brains.
The Dark Luminosity of the Brain
Scientifically speaking there is a dark neuromelanin nerve tract that is biogenetically rooted in the brain and brain stem of all of us, regardless of our surface ethnicity. From a brain or neuroscience perspective this neuromelanin nerve tract is dark, and as such, attracts light and energy and even seems to transduce matter and light to higher states of order (Bynum, 2012). Its first form as an elongating dark line emerges in the early weeks of life in our mother’s womb. It then, through embryological development, becomes more and more elaborated and significantly guides the unfoldment of our early nervous system and organ development (Barr,1993). It bears within itself the template of human consciousness. This template is suffused with darkness and seems from the very beginning to enfold the emerging dynamics of mind and light. Then much later it unfolds out onto the highest and most subtle mental planes in our refined adult nervous system.
This is the pathway of a kind of living dark-light consciousness that flows through the body, mind and ultimately the spirit. Remember that our original parents, the Homo Sapiens Sapiens of Africa or modern thinking man, were dark and phenotypically Africoid , both within and without. These two streams, the African origin of human consciousness, and the direct experience of the moment to moment lived world that pervades our consciousness, creativity, intuition and intellectual genius during self- reflection, flow into the same pool. This vibrant reality is often in deep repression but modern psychology reveals that it lives in our dreams.
History, Dreams and the Unconscious
Dark Light Consciousness
We have a light-sensitive substance within our brain and spinal core, the neuromelanin, which becomes more concentrated the more highly evolved we are.
by edward bruce bynum, ph. d
Many of the world’s spiritual traditions speak of a coiled life force, or energy, associated with and moving upward from the base of the spine. The ancient Egyptian term for it is Uraeus; in ancient India they referred to it as Kundalini. In both it is compared to a serpent. The crown of the Pharaohs of Egypt have a serpent coming out of the pineal gland area. As practitioners of the spiritual sciences, and of mummification, the ancient Egyptians’ knowledge of anatomy and physiology was unsurpassed until the late nineteenth century in Europe. We see the Uraeus in the medical caduceus: two serpents winding usually seven times around a pole until they reach the top, at which point they have wings and take flight.
The Indian Hindu tradition refers to chakras, wheels of energy that correspond to autonomic nervous system plexuses along the spine. There is also a more energetic representation in what would be called the subtle body. The chakras are empirically derived and people have been practicing to awaken them for thousands of years. The spiritual traditions turned inward, noticed what their experiences were and documented them. All I have tried to do is bring our scientific knowledge of today to bear upon what has been the testimony of many of our ancestors.
Many of us believe that psychology and psychiatry began as a scientific study with Freud and Jung in the last part of the nineteenth century. Nothing could be further from the truth, and they both said as much. Freud’s office in Vienna was littered with ancient African and Egyptian statutes. In one of C.G. Jung’s best-known books: Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he describes his trip to Africa. He was in Uganda and looked out the window and saw an African child. With a flash of insight he knew that was himself, a part of his deep consciousness, which he called the collective unconscious.
The Inner Light
Light is not only a focus of scientific observation, it is also at the core of most spiritual traditions— especially the perception of internal light. If we ask how that is connected to the physiology and neurology of the West, we notice that certain phenomena of the human nervous system are intimately associated with
the phenomenon of light. One of those is neuromelanin, the melanin in the brain. Melanin occurs on the surface of the body of all human beings. It varies with different ethnic and racial backgrounds and is even variable within one’s own family. But there is another form of melanin that seems radically more important and that is the melanin of the brain. It is universal and has nothing to do with ethnicity or race.
What makes it so important is that neuromelanin absorbs light. It not only absorbs light, it also transforms it to higher vibrational states. Of all the animals of the earth, those that have the highest concentration of melanin in the brain and nervous system are the primates. Of the primates, those that have the highest concentration are the great apes, and among them, the chimpanzees. The only primates with even more are we humans. We have a light-sensitive substance within our brain and spinal core, the neuromelanin, which becomes more concentrated the more highly evolved we are.
Interestingly enough, most of the universe is composed of some mysterious cold dark matter. I don’t know if it’s simply my intuition, my experiences as a poet, or my experiences in meditation, but there is a profound affinity between this dark matter and neuromelanin. This is why I decided to combine my traditional clinical training as a psychologist, my capacity to translate modern science, and my study of ancient sciences in my book, Dark Light Consciousness.
Darkness Is A Different Wavelength of Light
We only see a tiny visible spectrum of light. Most of the light in the universe is unseen, yet all of that is a subset of a vaster form of energy that we don’t see even through our electro-magnetic instruments. However, we can perceive it indirectly, for example by its interaction with gravity. This strikes me as much the same as the boundless consciousness or intelligence discovered in deep meditation and spiritual exercises of one kind or another The neuromelanin of the brain is not only on the surface of the brain but in strategic areas within the brain, and all the way to the base of the spine where the Kundalini, or Uraeus, is traditionally observed to rest or sleep. My intuition and experience suggest very strongly that this is the direction of our future science. My work has been trying to get my contemporaries in psychology and psychiatry to look at this and consider that perhaps our “healthy functioning ego” is no the highest level we can attain or have attained in the past—and that the flashes of intuition, of creativity, of awareness and realization, come from a different level of consciousness.
Much of the Kundalini along our spine is asleep. But in a certain percentage of people—by accident, birth, fortunate experience, trauma, or through spiritual discipline of one form or another—that energy awakens.
When it is awake, you know it.
The contemplative disciplines have traditionally and historically referred to the experience of these flashes. They have different names for it but the easiest way for us to grasp this today is to recognize that in addition to a conscious mind and an unconscious mind, there is also a superconscious level. The ancient Egyptians, known as Kemetic Egyptians, worked with the unconscious and called it by name—either the “primeval waters of Nun” or the “black underworld of the Amenta.” They used it in hypnosis and other clinical practice, and we are just rediscovering that. Part of the work I’ve been trying to do is to bring that forgotten knowledge of our ancestors back into the scientific fold, because there is a wealth of information there.
Much of the Kundalini along our spine is asleep. But in a certain percentage of people—by accident, birth, fortunate experience, trauma, or through spiritual discipline of one form or another—that energy awakens. When it is awake, you know it; it is physical and you experience it. In the Western and American traditions we have many different ways of experiencing it. One of the more common is when a person is “born again” and they literally feel their life come back to them, usually with a great deal of religiosity and energy. Some people feel it moving along the inner courses of their body, usually along their spinal line. There are many different experiences in different traditions, be they West African or Quaker Underneath or behind all those experiences is the awakened energy that courses through the body.
The ancient Kemetic Egyptian methodology, and also the Kundalini traditions of India and Tibet, not only acknowledge it but have some sophisticated disciplines for moving that energy sequentially, in a disciplined and safe way, up the spinal column until it reaches its destination in certain areas of the brain and then beyond. That is called being Awake or Enlightened. It can take a long time, even for the fortunate ones.
I am simply trying to bring psychology and psychiatry back to recognizing that Kundalini energy exists. Psychiatry was born in ancient Africa, particularly in Kemetic Egypt. They knew about the different levels of consciousness. Even some of the words we use today in psychology and psychiatry have their origins there. The North African scholar, St. Augustine, in his work, Principales, talks about archetypes, which was later picked up by Carl Jung Anima/animus in Jungian psychology comes from Edward Tylor, an anthropologist who studied so-called “primitive Africans” in the 1800s, and noticed that they were paying attention to female and male spirits in animals: anima/animus.
We are simply trying to expand our awareness as a species, to recognize that different members of the human family have made enormous contributions to what we know. In many ways we live in a conflicted time, but also in a hopeful time because many ancient traditions are coming together. If we can integrate and recognize those, we can all be spiritually wealth.
© 2016 by Edward Bruce Bynum, a clinical psychologist at the Brain
Analysis and Neurodevelopment Center in Hadley, Massachusetts. A student of Swami Chandrasekharanand Saraswati and a winner of the Abraham H. Maslow award from the American Psychological Association, he is the author of several books, including The African Unconscious. This article is abridged from interviews of Dr. Bynum by Inner Traditions, the publisher of his recent book, Dark Light Consciousness, www.InnerTraditions.com. Both interviews may be seen on YouTube or visit www.obeliskfoundation.com.
This article first appeared in Light of Consciousness magazine, Autumn 2016.
Please see Light-of-Consciousness.org.
Most of us would not be surprised to learn that family-related feelings and familialconsciousness are twoof thedeepest and most powerful currents running throughthe ocean ofourlives. Those whowork in the field of family therapy take thisdimension of psychological life intoaccount inour practice. Weseedaily how the influenceof familial patterns isextraordinarily powerful in itsdepthand intensity.
As clinicians and as family members ourselves we realize that because it is this powerful weoftendream about our family members. It iscommon and normal to have dreams in which family members are prominently involved. The vast majority of these dreams are the usual dreams in which a parent,sibling or othersignificant other, living or dead, is doing something that we generally recognize as their normal behavior.However sometimesthey are doing something unusual or even paradoxical in our dreams.
Often extremely strong feelings and images arise which reveal the deeper emotions we share and have toward these special people in our lives. Our identities sometimes intimately comingle and at other times come up in sharp contrast in these dreams. In them we all seem to know and recognized each other. The dream, with its strange contours and story-line, is the perfect field on which to portray our “raw”, sometimes subtle and frequently multileveled feelings and emotions. Dreams are a pulse taken on the heartbeat of family life.
What we are seeing in actuality is a clinical manifestation of a seemingly shared field of affect, ideation, emotion, behavior and memory of experiences in which each member of the field or system experiences events and emotions from a slightly different angle. However all share a deeper resonance with each other member of the field. This might be described as a family unconscious dimension or level of our consciousness developed over long periods of time living together, sharing intimate family occurrences and emotional experiences. Dreams in particular, given their emotional and even limbic resonance within us and our shared intimate experiences, are a prominent crucible where these meet.
Over the past century plus Freud (1953) and others after him have demonstrated that dreams both obscure and selectively reveal what we deep down really feel and think about each other and ourselves. In the dream state our hold on “reality” is not as well guarded as it is when we are awake. Our psychological defenses are to a large extent ablated and what appears to us as "reality" becomes very intense, visual and even somatically experienced.
Jung (1974) and his followers revealed that there are great spiritual energies, treasures and messages from the collective unconscious hidden in the deeper river of dreams. This collective unconscious is that vast reservoir of knowledge, wisdom, and experience collected by humanity through the ages. Both Freud and Jung took note of the unusual time distortions and spatial condensations fused with emotionality that occurred in the dream-work. Their work with dreams was largely a reflection on dreams when we are awake and what it means to the dreamer.
It has become clear however in the present age, based on replicated laboratory research, that we can not only reflect on but can also consciously influence the dreaming process as it occurs much more than we had earlier thought we could. This is what is termed the lucid dream experience (LaBerge,1985). We also know from laboratory based anomalous research that human information communication can proceed through channels not dominated by the traditional five senses of the waking state. Both Freud and Jung at different times acknowledged this in their clinical practice.
Finally we also know from many replicated studies in anomalous research and reports by well-established clinicians in the field that psi or what used to be termed ESP occurs a good deal in certain kinds of dreams, especially between dreamers who who share an intimate familial and/or other deep emotional bonds such as between analyst and patient (Ehrenwald,1978;Schwarz,1980;Jahn and Dunne,1987).
This is reported in the clinical literature repeatedly despite our modern ‘scientific’ skepticism that such events can occur. This has more to do with our current scientific epistemology than observed reports. It is currently a theoretically inconvenient but never the less observed aspect of our reality and experience. Any number of these possibilities of communication can occur when we are dreaming because the "boundaries" between individuals within the family system change significantly in the dream state (Bynum, 2017). With an experienced shift in boundaries comes a shift in how we conceive of knowing anything. This has personal and clinical as well as theoretical implications.
Implications for Family Therapy
For example, after a sleep-filled night in December, my wife and I mentioned our dreams to each other as is our custom. I had dreamed a strange dream in which a "grandmother type" was trying to reach or catch me. She triggered "mixed feelings" in me as to whether she was trying to protect me or somehow "get me." Also in the dream the grandmother attempted to steal or cut off a pickle I had! Having a somewhat Freudian lens, I made note of the sexual aspect of this. I later woke with a slightly eerie feeling about the dream. On the same night my wife dreamed my grandmother had a necklace with a moon-shaped crescent locket which fell partly from her neck and turned into a knife or sharp edge. My wife then wondered in the dream itself whether the grandmother was gay. While we both felt these dreams were odd I noticed the correspondences in the grandmother images, the sexual feelings, and the act of cutting. These appeared in both dreamscapes. Neither of us had discussed grandmothers for a long time and we could remember no events recently that would account for the dreams in terms of day residue. In any event the sharing of these experiences fosters a certain ‘communicative intimacy’ between partners. It also has more direct clinical relevance.
While on a post-doctoral fellowship at a psychiatric institute that specialized in family therapy (EPI) I had the opportunity to study the dreams of the families I saw in therapy. I asked some of them to keep dream logs for me. They did not share the dream logs with each other. To my surprise I discovered that recurrent transactional patterns and behaviors were reflected in the dreams of each family member that kept the dream logs. This was especially true when the family was going through a crisis or some other intense situation. I noted the simple fact that these families were often living in the same place, including the same house and rooms for decades and sometimes for generations. They were often in similar sleep and dream cycles at the same time of the night. Certain coordinating tendencies could be seen. It became very clear in clinical sessions that the major emotional issues in the family were each reflected in slightly different ways in each family member’s inner landscape. In a certain sense, each family member’s dream life reflected the dream life of each other family member.
In one family therapy session we worked with the following recurring dream of a 15 year old girl. She dreamed that she "escaped" from her parents’ house and jumped into their car. As she drove away, the father would run toward her but never manage to quite catch her. The closer he got, the faster the car went. Finally the girl fully escaped him only to run headlong into a telephone pole and kill herself. In this family’s therapy sessions, the themes of autonomy and separation with a great deal of anxiety occurred repeatedly. The daughter fought continually with her parents over her own intense involvement with a young man of whom the family did not approve. She felt rebellious and dominated by her parents, in particular her father. However, when she stayed away from home too long, she began to experience somatic problems and wanted to "lose" herself in male companionship.
Another dream by the girl’s 12 year old sister revealed a similar theme. The younger girl dreamed that a large "awful" man ran around screaming at her mother, her older sister, and herself. Finally, the man stepped on all three but did not kill them. The dream recurred several times. The family that provided this dream series was composed of a father who had a manic-depressive illness, an extremely religious, compulsive mother, and two teenage girls. All three women in the family had psychosomatic problems, such as stomach cramps, persistent gas pains, migraines, and frequent depression. While the clinician made use of these observations for himself to help the three female patients ‘bond’, he did not confront the parental unit out of concern they might prematurely terminate treatment. There was already concern that therapy itself was against their religious orientation. Another clinician may well have gone in another direction.
When the same symbol appears in more than one member’s dream it may reflect a family’s unconscious synchronous symbology. The following two dreams series was reported by a clinician whose family was not in therapy at the time but had an interest in dreams. It reflects a basically healthy family struggling with somewhat difficult but normative issues :
…..the children and I are being driven north in a white station wagon (similar to my parent’s when I was a teenager). I open the back right-hand door while the station wagon is in motion. When I see a metal guardrail approaching, I quickly pull the door closed so that it won’t impact. Afterwards I reopen the door, while the car is still moving, and jump out with a child in my arms as if I’m going to “save” this child. I run up the hill into a parking lot with multi-sized buildings which seem to be under construction. As I look back, I see (my children) Vic and Theresa walking along a median of grass and trees. They are stopped by a man who hassles them, but they are able to get past him and come along towards me. After I awoke, I guessed that “child” I was rescuing was the “child-self” who had experienced those nightmares in the earlier dreams. Before I had a chance to develop this line of thinking further, Theresa, my daughter, related her dream of that night at breakfast and I recorded it. Theresa was 9 years old, Vic was 13. I had never mentioned my dream to either of them.
Our Old Car
(Theresa M.)…Vic, Dad, and I get into two cars, our old blue and white mustang and Dad’s blue Honda.. Vic got into the Mustang and so did I, and Dad got into the Honda Accord. So Vic started driving the car and I was curious, how he was doing it, and why…Then we took off. I suggested to Victor that we wait for Dad but he said “no” so we kept on going. Then I heard an engine start; it was Dad in the Honda. I said, “Vic, stop!” and he called “No’. Then finally we came up to a construction site; the building was almost done. There was a desert in front of it, like sand. I opened up the door, got out on the curb and was running. Then he stopped and I closed the door. Soon Dad came up and he stopped and got out of the car. He scolded Vic for driving off without Dad and he scolded me for getting out of the car while it was still going.
There are many other examples. In working with families in therapy and others, I noted that certain coordinating tendencies including psi events often occurs in a variety of situations. Different families naturally had different styles and certain families communicated this way, albeit irregularly, with each other through dreams. Some families rarely, if ever, did. In some measure these psi or paranormal dreams can be predicted and observed. I found this a very exciting discovery and as I talked with others, I found out more and more people have had the same kind of experiences in their families too.
What seemed to be operating was a field of shared images, ideas, and feelings in each individual within the family system. This shared family emotional field, which we call the family unconscious (Bynum, 1984) is a shifting, interconnected field of energy and information that does not obey the conventional rules of linear causation but rather appears to embrace a wider field of space and time association and connectivity than in the waking state. This field of interconnected energy, influence, and information in many ways parallels some of the developments in quantum physics which during its own inception had many community psychological barriers to its recognition of the unusual phenomena arising to observation.
While a fuller description of these phenomena would take us far afield, there are a number of excellent summaries and descriptions of these developments in the literature (Herbert, 1987;Kaku, 1994;Capra,1980). However just as quantum mechanics superseded , but did not replace, the classical physics of Newton in its description of events under certain circumstances that then threw light on the wider context, we are suggesting something like that here. In particular in the familial unconscious dreaming context there is recognition that boundary and psychological identity boundary are not absolute; that perceived causality is not linear and can be quite convoluted and enmeshed; the ‘arrow of time’ is not always linear; that space is not merely flat and extended but can also be convoluted and even shifting with profound implications for identity formation. As we see fleshed out in The Dreamlife of Families (Bynum, 2017)) this applies not only in familial dream dynamics but also, very importantly, in psychological and medical or somatic symptom formation within the family system.
In a curious way each emotional dreamscape reflects or implicates each other dreamscape within the field. The clearest scientific model we have of this phenomena is a hologram and by extension a holonomic paradigm. Here each part of the larger field and image has a resonate affinity with and enfolds each other sub-part and can reflect all other parts in slightly different ways. For our purposes it offers a limited but useful analogy to certain information and energetic dynamics.
We know that our psychological "boundaries" and identities intermingle in the primary process of the dream state with those we dream about. This seems to take a systematic approach when it comes to the dreams of people who are deeply and powerfully interconnected with each other over years by shared events, feelings, and patterns of behavior such as in family life. The powerful emotions and the shared histories of families make this possible. There is a significant rise in these observed unusual experiences among such dreamers. As the years of clinical work and experience go by we grow more convinced that a vast reservoir of healing is located in the collected dreams and memories of the people who are most dear to us through so many important years of our lives.
Bynum, E.B., (2017).The dreamlife of families. Inner Traditions & Bear Company, Rochester, VT
Capra, F. (!980).The tao of physics. Bantam Books. New York: NY.
Ehrenwald, J. 1978). The esp experience: A psychiatric validation. Basic Books. New York: NY.
Freud, S. (1953). The interpretation of dreams. (trans. By J. Strachey). Hogarth Press, London: UK.
Herbert, N. (1987). Quantum Reality: Beyond the new physics. Anchor Books/Doubleday, Garden City: NY.
Jung, C. G.,(1974). Dreams. Bolligen Series/Princeton University Press, Princeton: NJ.
Jahn, R. G. and Dunne, B.J. (1987). Margins of reality: The role of consciousness in the physical world. Harcourt Brace Jonavovich. New York: NY.
Kaku, M. (1994). Hyperspace: A scientific odyssey through parallel universes, time warps, and the 10th dimension. Anchor Books Doubleday. New York: NY.
LaBerge, S. (1985). Lucid dreaming: the power of being awake and aware in your dreams. Jeremy P. Tarcher, Los Angele: CA.
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*Edward Bruce Bynum, Ph.D., ABPP, is a clinical psychologist. He is the author of several texts , including THE DREAMLIFE OF FAMILIES (2017,Inner Traditions and Bear Company) He is in private practice.
Edward Bruce Bynum, Ph.D.
Director of Behavioral Medicine
University of Massachusetts Health Services, Amherst, MA
With the exception of the atheist at one end of the spectrum and the fully realized mystic at the other, most human beings would acknowledge that the reality they live in has three interconnecting spheres of experience, the physical, the mental or psychological, and the numinous or spiritual. During contemporary times, especially in the technologically leading nations, the paradigm of scientific materialism has come to exercise a dominating influence over the ways we value, perceive and even conceptualize these perennially interconnecting spheres of experience. In many cases this paradigm of scientific materialism has greatly devalued and even questioned the reality and legitimacy of the spiritual dimension of human experience. This brief paper supports the position that experience in the realms of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual are all dimensions human science and knowledge can and must explore, but that the criterions and cannons of validity and verification of their disciplines and methodologies, are subject to the particular dictates and circumstances of each of these realms of experience.
Research methods in clinical psychospirituality are similar in philosophy and structure to research methods in other areas of inquiry. There must be both a data base and data gathering leading to a body of knowledge; there must be observation of relevant processes and appropriate experience with the data of observation; and the data must be open to verification and replication by others using the same or similar methods. This leads to a body of knowledge in all science.
There have been traditionally speaking three realms of human knowledge:
a. The sensory or physical realm.
b. The symbolic, cognitive or mental realm.
c. The noetic, spiritual or transcendental realm.
In each of these three, often interpenetrating realms, the data or datum of experience is present and immediate and not reducible to anything else. It may lead or be associated with something else, but in the moment of direct apprehension, it is the that of immediate experience (Wilber, 1982). This is the confession of both meditative practice and ordinary experience.
Experience in this vein then is the direct apprehension, the immediate giveness of the datum or data in any of the three realms. Therefore, all human knowledge in this sense is rooted in experience, but not all human knowledge is necessarily rooted only in sensory experience. There is a mental-symbolic realm of direct experience that has its own criterion of truth and validation. Mathematical proof or validation of abstract theorems is one; aesthetic apprehension in music, art, etc. is another; insight with a moral or ethical dilemma is another; psychological insight of a dynamic nature with affect is still another. All can lead to the verification of a set of experiences. Therefore, there are different types and criterion for validation and proof dependent upon the area, realm of inquiry, and its appropriate methods of exploration.
Sensory proof is in the corporal experience of the data, e.g., it tastes or sounds or feels X, Y, or Z. It is real and grounded. Mathematical proof uses a different methodology. Its cognitive and symbolic experience of the data are real, appeal to a certain aesthetic and elegant sense, but are not in the sensory mode. Its methodology is appropriately drawn from the mental-cognitive realm.
Spiritual or transcendental truths are not in the sensory or even mental-symbolic realm, but in the noetic realm. This knowledge is outside the sensory and mental modes, but is not outside of experience.
Therefore, each of the three realms is open to direct and immediate experience, apprehension and replication and these apprehensions are the data that lead to a body of verifiable knowledge in each realm. In each realm this knowledge is immediate and personal (Polanyi, 1962).
Empiricism, as a research methodology, must be recognized to be an expansive and inclusive approach that is not limited to only sensory and symbolic data. We can suggest in this context then that there are at least three types of verification of methods and procedures for empirically and experimentally derived data:
a. Instrumental verification, in which the research methodology says do this, observe that this allows for prediction in science.
b. Intuitive or cognitive apprehension, which is the immediate and direct experience of the data itself in any of the three realms, sensory, symbolic, or transcendental.
c. Group or communal confirmation, which leads us to consensual validation by checking the results of one's experience with the experience of others and other patterns.
There arises in this process a body of data and knowledge and also a discipline of inquiry that is observable and empirically (in this wider sense) testable by direct experience by others which can then be either confirmed or refuted (Popper, 1965). In order to do so, the subject, in any of the three realms must be trained in the appropriate discipline. This allows for observation, replication, verification, and prediction of future situations.
In the orthodox and traditional sciences we are familiar with and perhaps addicted to, the sensory and symbolic realms predominate. The ground of experience here is more mundane. In the last two centuries this has emerged implicitly as a philosophy of scientific materialism and its values have influenced our actual perception of the overall world process. In the spiritual or transcendental realm there is direct apprehension of the ground, as Spirit itself, as Being, as Consciousness itself, prior to mentalization, which while experienced is not experienced primarily in either the sensory or the symbolic mode. The bias of contemporary scientific methodology is a perceptual and ideological contraction of empiricism around sensory and symbolic events, all the while dissociating itself from the sublime and transcendental domain. This has resulted in nothing less than a spiritual epistemectomy.
In the history of spiritual or transcendental apprehension, there has arisen a rich diversity of paths and disciplines conditioned by culture, personal constitution, and the plurality of human development. World cultures have also greatly contributed to the conditioning of our perception of the world process. The West is thought to value materialism and thus to have most recently stressed scientific materialism as the way to reality. The East, meaning primarily India, China, and Tibet, are believed to favor spiritualism. Africa, especially the ancient Kemetic Egyptian sciences of matter and spirit, are thought to combine the material and the spiritual. Personalism in the latter context invades the material as well as the spiritual. In this paradigm even the trees, the mountains, and other aspects of the wider ecology are perceived to be essentially, even at the quantum level, alive and conscious, to possess essences. There is no absolute distinction between mind and matter, form and substance, ourselves and the world process. The self is the center of the world process, animating it and making it living and personal (Asante, 1989). This Personalism dimension in the intricate corridors of one's life and decision making process profoundly affects the path or chosen psychospiritual discipline of one's practice. This again is why there are so many seemingly different paths. Each path has articulated a lineage and discipline(s).
Each path has articulated a lineage and unfoldment of specific experiences and states of awareness. Deviations from these paths very often lead to pitfalls and symptoms, delusions, and distress. These pitfalls are observable and recognized by the teacher/master or earlier successful teacher of the particular path. Paths are rich and many, e.g., Yoga, Zen, Shamanistic, Esoteric, Christian, Cabalistic, IFA, etc., etc., and within each arise further elaborations. Therefore at a certain stage in each lineage, a teacher is required, just as in other realms of inquiry. We can be self-taught only so far!
Clinical Psychospirituality focuses on this area of spiritual potholes and technical mistakes in each discipline. It helps to reveal the interface between the subjects unique psychological issues and vulnerabilities and tendencies, and those of the path. Its awareness and experience with the path's or discipline's research methods and procedures can help reflect how these personal tendencies inhibit progress or support unfoldment.
In Kundalini Yoga for example, the teacher clarifies the internal, empirical and experiential difference between the perception of energy movement or pranotthana and Kundalini itself; Tantric discipline between body-breath-sensual currents and mere indulgence; between dreamy-visionary sleep (nidra) and meditation; between an hallucination and a vision or epiphany; between Kundalini arousal with its somatic and symbolic-visionary sequelae and the stabilization of this phenomena in the subtle and psychophysical self.
Needless to say these practices absolutely requires the direct experience and training of the clinician themselves. These are matters that make the exploration of non-traditional research areas very similar to the other more well known, better financed, but also much younger human sciences.
Asante, M.K., 1989, Afrocentricity; Africa World Press; Trenton, NJ.
Polanyi, M., 1962, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, Harper and Row, New York.
Popper, K.R., 1965, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, Harper and Row, New York.
Wilber, K., 1982, The Problem of Proof: A Proposal for the Verification of Sensory, Symbolic, and Spiritual Truth Claims. Revision 5,1, Spring, 80-100.