Thursday, March 29, 2012

Medium Jodi Livon on intuition v. fear

Jodi Livon is a Minnesota medium who has had strong mediumistic abilities since early childhood. However, she was raised in a family that had no framework for these phenomena, so she was quite scared of her experiences until her paternal grandmother died when Livon was about 22. Her grandmother had been her primary parent, and they had a very trusting relationship, so when her grandmother started to communicate with her after death, Livon felt both safe enough and motivated enough to begin to fully embrace and develop her mediumistic abilities.

In her book, “The Happy Medium,” Livon gives some autobiographical information, some examples of interesting sessions with clients, and a lot of hard-won wisdom about managing being psychic and/or mediumistic. She has clearly had some challenges early in life, and she has clearly done a lot of work on herself. She has fabulous boundaries. I wish I had such good boundaries! She’s very compassionate about people’s differences and flaws. And she has a lot of good advice about being self-compassionate, grounding yourself, and being yourself.

Her tips about how to tune into your intuition emphasize getting to know yourself in a psychologically robust way, rather than the usual exercises.

The following passage seems particularly good for those of us who are having a lot of trouble discriminating fearful imaginings from intuition, due to neurological damage or overwhelming psychic opening.

“Of course, when listening to that inner voice, be certain it is the voice of intuitive knowledge versus fear. First, ask a question that you know the answer to. Is the voice truthful? Are you feeling respected? If not, you are dealing with fear. Tell it to go away. Intuitive responses feel familiar. Unless there is truly immediate danger, the sensation should be one of calm certainty sent with respectful words and a loving quality. The voice of intuition is steady. The voice of fear is not” ( p. 154).

Now, this way of discriminating intuition from fear probably works more easily for people who are slowly and voluntarily working on opening up their psychic abilities. It’s a little trickier for people who are having a spontaneous, overwhelming psychic opening, and even more complicated if there is neurological damage confusing the issue.

The problem is that fear can be so, so convincing. This is true with anxiety in general, but it’s amplified when you’re having psychic experiences you weren’t prepared for or a neuro-damage-induced psychic opening.

Another problem is that you can’t tell fear to go away very effectively when you are in uncharted territory for you, such as having unsolicited psychic experiences, or when you are dealing with neurologically-driven fear. The forces you’re encountering are unfamiliar or unyielding. At these times, forget trying to be accurately intuitive; just being moderately rational is hard enough. Still, I think even we can benefit from Livon’s tip.

At one level, we can look at fearful imaginings as the blockade to psi, or as the antithesis of psi.  But, an additional way of looking at the fear that erupts after a distressing psychic opening is that the fear is a misinterpretation of the newly available psi. This may be especially common with distressing psychic openings.

How can we use what Livon wrote in this passage to illuminate this misinterpretation that’s going on? We can ask her questions, and then add one more:

Can you look at the situation you’re afraid of, and imagine that there is actually something particularly positive in it? Your fear may be a red herring, a misinterpretation at one level that masks what is, in fact, a particularly positive thing about the situation at another level. It may be that this is a consistent way that we misinterpret overwhelming psychic openings. The information we’re getting is so new in both quantity and content, that it just triggers a reflexive fear reaction.

In a simple way, you can see this dynamic illustrated by Livon in the sense that she was very psychically open from childhood, but not helped to be prepared for it, so she was afraid. Granted, she has had to learn boundaries and interpretive skills to manage the flood of information, but still there really was nothing to be afraid of ever. And this is what she, herself, now says.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Henry Corbin’s Mundus Imaginalis, Sufism, neurological damage, psychic opening, and imagination gone awry

by Barbara Croner & Sheila Joshi

A new map of new territory

This weekend we attended a lecture by San Francisco Jungian analyst Richard Stein, MD, who introduced us to a way of thinking about reality that helped illuminate some of the problems that come with a psychic opening that is brought about by neurological damage or is otherwise distressing.

Dr. Stein introduced us to the work of Henry Corbin (1903 – 1978), who was a professor of Islamic Studies at the Sorbonne, a Christian theologian, and an expert on 12th and 13th c. Sufism and Persian mysticism.

Corbin coined the term “Mundus Imaginalis” to explain to Westerners the Sufi account of a territory that exists between the physical, sensory world and the spirit world (which Plato saw as consisting of ideal forms, but which some conceptualize as formless).  This intermediate world has its own consistent topography, but is also constantly influenced and shaped by the physical and the spiritual worlds. 

The Mundus Imaginalis is something like the Christian heaven; it’s the part of reality where archetypes exist; it is peopled by beings, including angels.

We embodied humans both perceive this Mundus Imaginalis and we create in it.  It’s where synchronicities and creative leaps happen, where grace reaches us.  It’s where the experiences we call psychic happen, as well as dreams (Rossi, p. 4).

It’s a tricky term because Corbin seems to have had in mind a very real part of reality, but at least one of the ways it is accessed and influenced by us is via our imagination.  Yet, in some ways, the Mundus Imaginalis is more real than the physical, sensory world we call real.

Corbin also used the term “active imagination,” which he may have got from Jung, or may have developed simultaneously.  It is a method of perception and exploration that is supposed to straddle the physical world and the Mundus Imaginalis, allowing interplay between them (Voss, p. 5).

British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott’s concepts of “potential space” and “transitional phenomena” seem related.  Transitional phenomena are objects or artistic products or ideas that may be found or created by someone, which are both concretely real, yet also have innate or endowed magic – like a baby’s favorite blanket.

Potential space is Winnicott’s conceptualization of a state or field where transitional phenomena are found and / or created.  An example of being in potential space would be the composer who writes a piece of music, yet might also feel it was communicated to her by a Muse.

The use of transitional phenomena (like a comforting blanket or favorite piece of music) can also prop up the potential space, making further play, creativity, and discovery even more likely.

Getting lost and scared in the new territory

Now, what happens if you have a psychic opening that is brought about by neurological damage or is otherwise abrupt, distressing, and discontinuous with your previous weltanschauung?

Theoretically, you now have suddenly increased access to the Mundus Imaginalis.  This is supposed to be a desirable thing, expanding your capacity for creativity, grace, and mystical fun.  But, nooooooooo.  We seem to experience it as frightening and overwhelming.  And we imagine the worst.

In fact, it seems like most people going through an abrupt psychic opening (including  those of us in recovery from psych med neuro damage) have too much imagination.  And it all has a relentlessly negative bias.  To varying degrees, and with varying focuses, we all seem to start creating / finding bêtes noires. 

Richard Stein said that when you first encounter a repressed aspect of yourself or your culture, it almost always comes up first as dark -- almost as if it were angry or vengeful for awhile for having been neglected by you for so long.

Psychologist Kaye Rossi, Ph.D. made the very interesting claim that “hitting bottom” --when someone’s life falls apart due to addiction such that they finally become able to stop being as addicted -- occurs in the Mundus Imaginalis (p. 29).

According to one of the working hypotheses of this blog, distressing psychic openings happen for reasons analogous to hitting bottom (see 29 Feb 12 post).

Rossi said that, when hitting bottom, the addicted person unwittingly co-creates with other intelligences in the Mundus Imaginalis some kind of synchronicity or wake up call that makes it possible and necessary to start letting go of the addiction (pp. 216-223).

Clearly, it is better to be admitted to this level of awareness than not, even if admittance is initially frightening and requires painful purification and evolution.  But, for some of us, it is, at first, a perilous hero’s journey, fraught with terrors.  Like Orpheus, you have to be careful where you look.

English Religious Studies Lecturer Angela Voss, Ph.D. wrote that if active imagination “is solely directed downwards toward matter it can only produce images which are ‘fantastic, imaginary, unreal or even absurd’ whose attraction is surface-deep and which flutter on the walls of the cave in which men are fettered.  The task of human beings then is to purify and liberate the soul so that it may begin to pick up, as it were, the traces of divine meaning behind the appearances of things” (Voss, p. 5).

Finding and / or creating a wonderful home in the new territory

In other words, if we keep going, and purify ourselves neurologically, psychologically, and spiritually, we become more proficient in the Mundus Imaginalis.  Then, having a lot of imagination starts to become a gift.

According to the 12th c Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi, it is our spiritual aspiration, or “himma” that facilitates the presence of the sought-after through the very act of desiring it.  Corbin says himma can concretely create that which it seeks (Voss, p. 9).

“The himma of a mystic can create changes in the world through an intensity of imagination that resonates on the plane of archetypal Ideas; he is thus himself a divine creator who establishes the patterns from which material forms derive.  What we call a miracle is the result of such a capacity to bring spiritual power to bear on matter and cut through the literal dimension of cause and effect” (Voss, p. 9).

Seth, the famous being channeled by medium Jane Roberts said something strikingly similar:  “Imagination and emotions are the most concentrated forms of energy that you possess as physical creatures.  Any strong emotion carries within it far more energy than, say, that required to send a rocket to the moon. Emotions, instead of propelling a physical rocket, for example, send thoughts from this interior reality through the barrier between nonphysical and physical into the objective world — no small feat, and one that is constantly repeated” (Seth, The Nature of Personal Reality, p. 95).

So, although at one point in the process we seem to have “too much” imagination, and it plagues us, the solution may lie in having even more imagination.  As we develop our relationship with the Mundus Imaginalis, our imagination begins to come from a deeper part of ourselves, so that what is found or created is more truly great for us, more individual, more apposite, than anything we could have imagined for ourselves before we tumbled into the opening.


Rossi, Kaye.  (2004).  Synchronicity and hitting bottom:  A Jungian perspective on the return of the return of the feminine through addiction and recovery.  Pacifica Graduate Institute dissertation.

Stein, Richard.  (2012).  The work of Henry Corbin:  Reflections on Persian Sufism and Jung’s psychology.  Lecture, 17 March 2012, The C.G. Jung Institute, San Francisco.

Voss, Angela.  (2007).  Becoming an angel:  The Mundus imaginalis of Henry Corbin and the Platonic path of self-knowledge.

Barbara Croner, M.F.T. is a psychotherapist in San Francisco, and a co-founder of the International Antidepressant Withdrawal Project.

Monday, March 12, 2012

30 stranded dolphins saved in Arraial do Cabo, Brazil

At the bottom of this post is an absolutely stunning video, filmed 5 Mar 12 by Gerd Traue.  Thirty dolphins beached themselves -- coming into the beach at full throttle! -- in Brazil, where nearby humans rapidly figured out what to do.  All the dolphins were saved.  The video is a bit disturbing to watch, but at the same time incredibly moving, and it has a happy ending.

“The happy ending is all the more welcome for the fact that it's unusual: in February, hundreds of dead bottlenose dolphins washed ashore on the northern coast of Peru, for reasons that remain a mystery. Meanwhile almost 200 dolphins have stranded themselves on the shores of Cape Cod in the past month; at least 125 have died, despite efforts to save them” (Jessica Phelan, GlobalPost / CNN, 10 Mar 12).

“From New England to Peru, an unprecedented number of dolphins have been beaching themselves in recent weeks, and experts are grappling to understand why” Jennifer Viegas,, 16 Feb 12).

There is much debate but no consensus about what’s going on.  One commenter on suggested the strongest solar storm in 8 years, which occurred on 5 March, might have impacted the dolphin’s sonar.  Other theories include climate change and pole shift (magnetic change) – it is 2012, after all!  Capt. David Williams of says that military sonar, underwater sonar mapping, and underwater earthquakes can all cause “barosinusitis (barotrauma in their massive head sinuses)” which is brought about by “rapid and excessive changes in the surrounding (ambient) water pressure.”

Even if one or more of these materialist theories is true, maybe we can also consider other teleological explanations for the phenomenon.

Dolphins are traditionally seen as psychic, closely bonded with humanity, profoundly wise and intelligent, and having some special mission that affects us all.  There are many anecdotes of dolphins rescuing humans, healing humans, assisting human births.

The AquaThought Foundation  “is a privately funded research organization dedicated to the exploration of human-dolphin interaction. Since 1989, AquaThought has studied the neurological impact of close contact with dolphins on human subjects and the related therapeutic phenomena.”

“According to their research, the human subject's dominate [dominant?] brain frequency drops significantly after dolphin interaction. Also observable is a period of hemispheric synchronization (the brainwaves emitted from both the left and right hemispheres of the brain are in phase and of similar frequency). Also, in many instances the background EEG became more evenly distributed within the spectrum. It is believed that this phenomenon may have some sort of therapeutic effect on an individual’s emotional, or physical health” (Rebecca Sato & Josh Hill,, 12 Jun 09).

Given the myriad contemporary and historical anecdotes of dolphins appearing out of the blue to rescue humans from gross bodily harm, and given our newfound understanding of the subtle healing effects they also have on us, maybe this recent spate of beachings is just a more dramatic attempt by dolphins to connect with and help us.

Maybe these animals are putting themselves at risk for us.  Maybe it benefits us, Gaia, and possibly them so much for us to be in close contact with them, to touch and help them, that they are pushing the envelope.  Perhaps these sometimes painful incidents are just the growing pains of a project to increase dolphin – human collaboration.  This parallels the way that psi sometimes erupts distressingly in us humans, but it is really just the growing pains of a project to connect us more with our true selves and the transpersonal level of reality.

It feels like this incident in Brazil was meant to be and meant to go viral.  (As of this posting, the video has been seen 2.5 million times on Youtube.)  I swear it felt like it was having a profound impact on me as I watched it.  And it has stirred many of the humans who’ve watched it.  Note how the whole incident has that choreographed feeling that life sometimes gets when you feel that something cosmic is working through you.

 And now for some comic relief –

Best comment – jal on CNN site --  “See, sun bathers can serve a porpoise.”

Second best comment – blakeourso on Youtube:  “See why you're not supposed to text and drive?”

Thanks to for the find.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Distressing psi is really misinterpreted insight, vitality, and developmental thrust

I just finished reading “Perspectives of clinical parapsychology:  An introductory reader,” Kramer, Bauer, and Hövelmann, editors, and I was very struck by how there are a handful of outpatient clinics in Europe and Argentina where people having distressing psychic or spiritual experiences can get help from professionals who are trained in both clinical psychology and parapsychology.  As far as I know, there is no such clinic in the U.S., even though it’s a huge country which does have a few parapsychology research centers.  This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the art of counseling people who are having distressing psi experiences.

The other thing that really jumped out at me is that distressing, usually spontaneous, psi experiences can very often be transmuted into quantum leaps of personal development for the experiencer.  This illuminating fact was evident throughout the book, but it was particularly obvious from the clinical vignettes in the Eberhard Bauer et al. article (Freiburg, Germany), and from the theory in the Niko Kohls article (Munich).

In fact, I would go further and say that the data presented led me to think that the spontaneous psi experiences were distressing because they were being somewhat misinterpreted by the experiencers, and because they contained a developmental thrust that was very much wanted but which was also taboo.  To me, these spontaneous experiences really seemed like shoves from the Tao / infinite self / personal unconscious / spirit guides – or some combination of them all!

Kohls writes:  “…distress and suffering have been defined by dominant mainstream conceptualizations as negative phenomena that only consist of physical and psychological components.  By way of contrast, the concept of spiritual emergency assumes that spiritual distress, although it may bother and harm an individual at least for a certain period of time, may actually lead to greater fulfillment and personal improvement in the long run, if dealt with properly” (p. 139).

Bauer et al. tell of the case of a woman who had distressing precognitive dreams about her daughter’s giving birth to her granddaughter, and then further anomalous experiences having to do with her granddaughter.  While the precognitive dreams turned out to have an element of truth, they were also distorted in a negative direction, as were her other anomalous experiences.  “The phenomena happened during a period when [she] made substantial advances in both her personal and professional life.”  It also became obvious to her that her development required separating more from her family (pp. 159 – 160).

 In another case, a woman began hearing inexplicable noises and feeling the bed shake in the new apartment she moved into after moving out of the apartment she shared with her partner.  She had guilt, fear, and aggression about wanting space and autonomy for herself, especially since she also had a needy mother and sister.  With clinical parapsychological counseling, she “perceived a clear interrelation between the phenomena and her own psychological dynamics.  The [phenomena] had attained a positive, signaling function:  they warned her when she disregarded her feelings and needs, they called on her to have a close eye on herself” (p. 162).

 Interestingly, this woman also had a history of psychotic process, which was not active, but which she feared reactivating.  Based on her creative use of the anomalous noises, the next time she had threatening psychotic material start to emerge, she deliberately engaged it (contrary to the advice of her conventional therapist) and “within a period of just three weeks during which the client maintained good control…[she used painting to transform] the ‘threatening powers’ into a ‘positive vital force’.  As a consequence she separated from her partner and completed her psychotherapy” (pp. 161- 2).

 In yet another case, a man began having distressing anomalous experiences, including a spontaneous vision of a broken traffic light with all the wires hanging out.  When he investigated, he found that the traffic light did not have wires hanging out, however it was partially broken, and the pedestrian light remained stuck on red.  During a single clinical parapsychological session, he had many insights about how this particular vision also symbolized a core conflict throughout his life.  Starting with an authoritarian upbringing, he had repeatedly tried to move forward, and yet been repeatedly blocked in his life.  He had never been given the green light, and he desperately wanted it.  After this immensely fruitful intervention, he pursued further therapy and, a couple of months later, wrote to report that “he had started to fundamentally change his life.  He had taken all the risky steps he hadn’t even dared thinking about before.  He had separated from his wife, sold the house, and was looking forward to take up his studies for which he had been accepted in the meantime” (pp. 166-7).

How wonderful and fascinating and terribly important to discern that these spontaneous, distressing psi experiences were keys to rapid, big developmental steps.  They could so easily have been misinterpreted, instead, as either uselessly delusional or as unhealthy psi.

I was pleasantly struck by the steady psychodynamic interpretation of these psi phenomena in addition to the holding of them as bona fide psi.  The psychodynamic piece seems often to be missing in current, popular U.S. accounts of psychic openings.  Maybe this is because Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is so dominant here right now, and psychodynamic, depth psychology is beleaguered.

Speaking of which, I was dismayed to see American cultural imperialism up to its old tricks in the widespread use of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM all over the world.  I have to admit it is a useful, standardized nosology, but it has so much economic and social oppression built into it, it’s not even funny.

Anyway, the broadly psychodynamic approach (inc humanistic, existential, etc.) to psi experiences apparent in this book is so smart.  If we use the First Sight model -- that everything we’re doing is already psi -- then things we *call* psychic are just further extensions of our natural capacities.  And, why haven’t we been using these extended capacities before now?  Psychodynamic explanations for this kind of developmental stall make so much sense.

The idea that distressing psychic / spiritual experiences might be driven by some kind of need to take the next step in one’s development parallels the strand in the history of psychology / psychiatry that has seen psychosis in a similar light.  John Weir Perry at the Diabasis center, R.D. Laing, C.G. Jung, Kazimierz Dąbrowski, the Anti-psychiatry movement in the 1960s, the Spiritual Emergency Network in the 1980s, etc. have avowed that psychosis is a crisis accompanied by much distortion, yes, but it is also an opportunity for radical healing if it is also interpreted as a source of truth and vitality.

Why do these developmental thrusts appear in such negative guise, for example, as distressing psi or as psychosis?  One important reason, that Kohls mentions in his essay, is that they involve change in self boundaries or ego (p. 140).  And, unfortunately, we tend to fear this and fight it tooth and nail, even if it’s for our eventual greater happiness.

Another important reason why these developmental urges initially appear to be bad things is that they are usually inconvenient to others and to the powers that be.  That’s why they get framed as purely pathological by the DSM!

We’re already psychic all the time.  It’s a basic feature of how we do everything we consider normal – walking, reading, understanding the spoken word, etc. But, we are supposed to be so much more psychic, so much healthier physically and psychologically, so much more powerful, and so much more happy.  That’s our natural state.

Instead, family and society unwittingly or wittingly have trained us to be small versions of ourselves.  The true self does its best to emerge, but it’s a confusing, conflicted, frightening process, that, by definition, goes against the status quo.  Maybe the title of this post should be “Civilization and its Discontents” (“Das Unbehagen in der Kultur”)…..

The psychic / spiritual / transpersonal level of reality is trying to help us.  These clinical parapsychologists are trying to heed that help.


Bauer, E., Belz, M., Fach, W., Fangmeier, R., Schupp-Ihle, C., & Wiedemer, A.  (2012).  Counseling at the IGPP – An overview.  In Kramer, W.H., Bauer, E., & Hövelmann, G.  (Eds.)  Perspectives of clinical parapsychology:  An introductory reader, Bunnik, The Netherlands:  Stichting Het Johan Borgman Fonds.

Kohls, N.B.  (2012).  Are spiritual and transpersonal aspects important for clinical parapsychology?  In Kramer, W.H., Bauer, E., & Hövelmann, G.  (Eds.)  Perspectives of clinical parapsychology:  An introductory reader, Bunnik, The Netherlands:  Stichting Het Johan Borgman Fonds.