Broken Knees

If I sit on a coach and put my feet up on a coffee table and each day I add an extra half pound of weight onto my knees — a book, a couple magazines, a newspaper — at some point my knees will buckle and collapse. It has nothing to do with genetics or biochemical imbalance. It has to do with that part of my anatomy is crutching something that over time becomes too heavy. That something is the collective materials that I have continually added on to my knees.

When that collapse happens, there is significant injury, and that is when a person’s biochemistry reacts and responds to that injury in the form of significant pain.

If you only treat the pain, i.e. with pain killers and suppressants, without dealing with the underlying injury, the chance that the knee will heal and recover and be able to regain full functionality is exceptionally low. And there is a very high chance that the person may limp for the rest of their life.

Yes. We all carry stress. We carry different amounts of stress and we carry it in very different ways. Some people become conditioned to carry significant weight and can do so quite well. Yet if that weight continues to grow without relief, it is much more likely that the continual strain will cause problems.

I have used this analogy of collapsed and broken knees since shortly after the breakdown / spiritual awakening I endured in 1998.  In my case, the sources of that weight were abstract and not visible to most people. My breakout was a result of a moral injury that woke me up to my toxic enabling of dysfunctional systems that I had become conditioned to. That is why a phrase like “spiritual awakening” is quite appropriate for my type of experience.

My soul “woke up” to the toxic conditioning that had been building in my life over several years. Other people couldn’t see the accumulation of weight because the sources of the weights burying my soul were not physical, concrete objects. The weights were abstract. The weights were a combination of past trauma and dysfunctional, even abusive, systems around me. My coping mechanisms and learned behavior from past experiences allowed me to tolerate a significant amount of stress, yet I didn’t realize I was walking straight into a stress breakdown.

Improbable, Not Impossible

I didn’t come across the work of Stanislav and Christina Grof until 2020, which is too bad because their work related to spiritual emergencies and extreme states of consciousness would have helped me immensely.

In June, 2021, I visited an online used book website to peruse different authors and books that might be in stock. I searched on Stanislav Grof and noticed that his book When the Impossible Happens: Adventures in Nonordinary Realities was available. I decided to purchase it and placed the order.

A week later, I was pleased to see my book had arrived. I opened the package and noted it was in good condition. I flipped through the book and noticed there was a single, paper bookmark in it.

I picked up the bookmark and was quite surprised when I read that the bookmark was from the Banff Book and Art Den. Considering Grof coined the phrase “spiritual emergency” and considering that I endured what would have been well-defined as a spiritual emergency in Banff, I found that connection to be pretty impressive.

Since 1998, I have visited Banff numerous times and was familiar with many of the shops and how they have changed over the years. I recognized the name on the bookmark, yet I couldn’t place where the bookstore was in town. Finally, I looked it up and learned that the bookstore closed in 2008. The article showed a picture of the store, and I recognized it immediately. I remembered going into that bookstore several times during the time I stayed in Banff until I felt comfortable enough to fly back to the United States.

I enjoy numerous connective experiences of synchronicity, serendipity, and just plain weird things happen. I usually consider them to be gifts from the universe. In this case, this connection was impossible as indicated in the book’s title. Yet it was highly improbable.

The Jung Connection

From October, 1988, to June, 1989, I studied in Basel, Switzerland on a Rotary International scholarship. At that time, I had finished my master’s degree in statistics and was applying to graduate school to study Germanics the following year. For a time, I thought of majoring in psychology, and I had taken a few basic psychology classes in college. Yet I didn’t really know the specific theories and approaches associated with specific researchers.

In the early 1990s, I read M. Scott Peck’s book, Further Along the Road Less Traveled. I enjoyed the blend of psychology and spirituality and learned of some of Carl Jung’s theories. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I later realized my belief system was definitely Jungian.

After the 1998 breakdown / breakthrough experience, I learned a little more about Carl Jung. My experiences with synchronicity drew me to him. I even appreciated that my passion growing up was synchronized swimming. I didn’t delve into his work all that deeply, though.

I knew that Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist, and at some point, I looked him up to see where he was from. I saw that he was born in Kesswil and thought that someday I should go and see where he was born.

Somehow I totally missed that he attended the University of Basel, and was later a faculty member there. The university in Basel doesn’t have a consolidated campus like universities in the United States. Several classes were held in multiple locations throughout the main part of the city. When I learned of Jung’s connection to the university, I envisioned him walking along the same streets and past the same buildings I walked past regularly while I lived there.

It was sometime in the summer of 2019 that I learned that Jung grew up near Basel. In fact, both of his parents’ families lived in Basel. Sheesh, how embarrassing. When I learned that, I chided myself with a laugh, “Geez, Penni, how could you not know that???”

In September, 2019, I was making reservations to stay in Basel a few nights during an upcoming trip to Europe. I looked on a website that listed private rooms for rent. I found one in the same general area of where I lived thirty years earlier. I made the reservation.

The following day, I received the confirmation email regarding my room. I smiled as I read the address of where I would be staying. It was one digit off from the address where I lived when I studied in Basel.

I can only guess that somewhere Carl Jung was chuckling.

Shaking It Off

In spring, 1999, I was living in Billings, Montana, with my parents, looking for a job, and trying to build a new life. I learned that Dr. Joan Borysenko would be giving a talk. I didn’t know who she was, and I don’t recall what the specific talk was about. Based on the promotional material, I decided to hear her speak.

During her talk, she mentioned one of her books, Fire in the Soul. That title certainly caught my attention. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, a fire had engulfed my soul and burned off quite a bit of dross of not just my own ego, but also the expectations and agendas of the people and society around me.

In 1999, the phoenix was still floundering in the ashes. In fact, she almost drowned in all the effort to put that fire out.

I enjoyed Borysenko’s presentation and made several notes as she spoke.

One concept caught my attention. She mentioned how some people go through a spiritual crisis that is very difficult, but potentially very transforming. She referenced some of the work of Carolyn Myss, who had written Anatomy of the Spirit, which I hadn’t heard of.

At some point in the presentation, Borysenko mentioned a description of a process that I believe she attribute to Carolyn Myss. She stated that during some spiritual crises, it is as though the soul tries to “shake off the trappings of this world.”

Shake off the trapping of this world.

That definitely caught my attention. That was a decent description of what parts of my experience felt like. It actually matched my experiences quite well. I didn’t realize it while I was in the process. Yet as I thought of that phrase, I agreed that my soul, the “true me,” was trying to emerge. It was trying to shake off all of the expectations of others, to shake off all of my conditioning as a people-pleaser, to shake off the manipulation of other people telling me who or what I was supposed to be.

That is the awakening, the transformation, the emergence of the soul. Beyond the collapsing ego structures. Beyond satisfying everyone around me and being the “good girl.”

Make no mistake, that shaking process is forceful, even violent.

The soul works to shake off that which no longer serves it well. That is why trying to force and “help” the person according to your own agenda is so problematic. Trying to shove, coerce, manipulate, and threaten a person to get back into that same role they were in — the same role that broke them open — is EXCEPTIONALLY VIOLENT and only adds more trauma.

Several times over the years, I have thought of that phrase: “shake off the trappings of this world.” It continues to resonate with me as a pretty decent description of that emergent process that I fell into unexpectedly.

Now, when I think of that phrase, I often smile and think, “Oh, yeah. There was a whole lot of shaking going on.”

Dr. June Singer: Modern Woman in Search of Soul

By spring, 1999, I was still working through the trauma of the previous year. I still had a lot of grief to process and my mind was still healing.

One morning, I stopped at a bookstore. Through the previous year, I found bookstores to be therapeutic. I found so many things to explore and interact with. Initially, the mass of books on the shelves might appear as a great conflict of themes and ideas displayed. That same mass of information allowed me to find titles and combinations of books that gave inspiration to help heal a soul or to at least provide some grounding and comfort.

Sometimes information finds you.

I was browsing through the psychology section of books. Using my right index finger, I scanned a row of books, holding my head sideways to read some of the titles. As my finger scanned down the row, I felt the energy grow stronger in my index finger, like a magnet. Then the feeling became weaker. So, I moved my hand back to the left a few books to where the feeling felt stronger again. I noticed the title of the book was “Modern Woman in Search of Soul” by Dr. June Singer. “Seems appropriate,” I thought.

I opened the book and saw a heading on the left page. It said The Visionaries. I read that passage which blew my mind:

“In every age there have been those few — madmen or geniuses, prophets or shamans, visionaries or fools — who have seen through the surface of ordinary consciousness and looked directly into the interior. These individuals have almost unanimously reported that they did not make a conscious decision to do so. It has seemed to them that they were “chosen” in some inexplicable way. They were called, they heard their names, and the responded. To them have been given visions of another world, a world without boundaries, out of space and out of time. Such people are around today, but they do not ordinarily proclaim themselves. One has to be prepared to recognize them when they appear, or else they pass unnoticed like a breeze in the morning. They are the latest of a long line carried on by the likes of Ezekiel, St. John of the Cross, Hildegarde of Bingen, Dante, Milton, Blake, and many others. They serve as teachers for those who know that it is possible to transcend the ego world and look in upon another…”

Dr. June Singer, Modern Woman in Search of Soul, 1990, P. 106

I was stunned. The passage described my experience quite well. The section describing looking through the surface of this physical veneer and seeing a world that has no boundaries and no “separateness” described parts of my experience in Banff. I had seen a system that didn’t end, not just physically, but emotionally, historically, and energetically also.

It surprised me to see that content typed on a page. It’s one thing to have an experience such as that. It’s something else to try to describe it and integrate it. It was completely foreign to me to realize that someone else understood that journey and had words for it.

What also impressed me was how I came across that passage. The energy I felt led me to that book. I was amazed at how this passage seemed to literally find me, instead of the other way around. Sure, I had experienced exceptionally improbable events of synchronicity. This was on the upper range of valuable experiences.

Continued Resonance

This sequence of events impressed me then and still does. Whatever forces in the universe that we don’t quite understand led me to “find” that passage that afternoon. Or as I have said, that passage found me.

I sat down at a table and took out a piece of paper from my bag and copied that section along with the book information. I didn’t buy the book that day, but I since have.

When I finally bought the book, I noticed the subtitle on the front cover, “Modern Woman in Search of Soul: A Jungian Guide to the Visible and Invisible Worlds.” I smiled at the duality at the mention of two worlds.* That certainly lent itself to a relationship with the dual / binary element of so-called “bipolar disorder.”

Mine was more of a “tripolar rebalancing” — mind, body, and soul. And that last element, soul, was also right there in the title of the book.

Many times over the years, I have reread that passage. And I continue to appreciate how it came into my life at a time when I needed it.

Shadow Explosion

The shadow is one of those abstract concepts that has different definitions and nuances depending on each person’s understanding of it.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung created the concept of the shadow. His Collected Works indicate that the shadow is “that hidden, repressed, for the most part inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious.” (Collected Works, 9, part 2, paragraph 422. 1963)

Since that description can be difficult to grasp, people provide different interpretations and descriptions of the shadow.

The shadow often represents the parts of ourselves that we want to deny and push aside. Those elements, which are generally uncomfortable, painful, and often deemed “negative” get pushed into what Jung called the shadow.

Often, that which you are uncomfortable with, you ultimately reject and push aside.

  • If you don’t like feeling insecure about something, you shove it into the shadow.
  • If you don’t like to feel angry, you shove it into the shadow.
  • If something frightens you and you reject it, you shove it into the shadow.
  • If you think being vulnerable is weakness, you shove it into the shadow.
  • If you see compassion as a weakness, you shove it into the shadow.

The Shadow Related to Trauma

From my own experiences, I think things can end up shoved into the shadow not just because they are negative and uncomfortable. Specifically, when a person is faced with long-term stress or trauma, it is natural to push responses aside into the shadow.

If we can’t figure out a way to resolve the pain and emotion associated with trauma or dysfunction, we shove that aside. Anger, frustration, passion, fear, sorrow, pain, grief. Over time, we can’t figure out how to resolve the situation that causes those elements and ultimately push them aside so that we can focus on parts of our lives that we do have more influence and control over.

At some point, we need to push it aside to get on with our lives. It’s not necessarily the case that we deny that part of ourselves. We may fully recognize the parts of us that react and respond in ways appropriate to a stressful situation. Yet over time, when faced with prolonged pain and stress, we have to do something with the emotions related to it. And often they get pushed aside. It is reasonable to me that the pain and emotions end up pushed off into the shadow.

The painful, “negative” elements don’t have to be a result of direct experiences. They can be emotions generated as we witness trauma and pain in other people, including family members and friends. Pain and compassion related to cultural and societal problems can also end up pushed aside.

When faced with issues that we cannot solve, we have to do something in an effort to function in our daily lives. As a result, we end up shoving those emotions aside. Most likely, they end up in the shadow. Note that this is also a form of conditioning in that we become adapted to the environment around us.

The Glass Ball of Stress

Prior to the breakdown / breakout in 1998, I was open with my friends about past trauma and stress. I witnessed significant trauma in chaotic situations since I was in high school. People around me were experiencing significant long-term difficulties. Though I had compassion for them and grieved for the pain they endured, I was not in a position to resolve their pain. As I continued into college and continued to build my life, I thought I was letting the stress in my life, including past trauma, “roll off my back.”

After the 1998 breakout, I realized that the accumulation of stress and responses hadn’t been rolling off my back at all. Instead, it was as though I was stuffing all of that into a glass ball.

As more stress was added into my life, I tried to adapt. Due to conditioning and my role as a people-pleaser, I didn’t walk away. Instead, I accepted it. At some point, I became entrenched in multiple dysfunctional environments. Yet I still didn’t walk away. I inadvertently continued to stuff more and more into that glass ball.

The Kachink and Explosion

Four days before my scheduled trip to Banff, one specific event fell into place. That event whacked that glass ball hard enough to break a hole in it. One single “kachink” was enough to puncture a hole in it. All of the garbage I had pushed into that ball poured forth and exploded as the pressure was released. At least that was a reasonable description for it.

And that alone was a very violent process.

For over twenty years, I knew that with my experiences there was both and explosion AND an implosion. Yet I couldn’t quite describe it. A few months after my breakdown in Banff, I realized that the implosion could be described as an ego collapse. The structures and relationships I created over my lifetime — which I have come to call an experiencebase — broke apart and collapsed in an implosion.

Yet what was the explosion? I couldn’t figure that out.

In the summer of 2020, I read and researched multiple resources to better understand my experiences. At some point, I thought, “Wait. That glass ball. Is that what Carl Jung called the shadow? Is that what exploded?” As I thought more about it, it made a lot of sense to me. That certainly seemed like a reasonable description. That would describe the pain, the content and the violence of what I felt so many years earlier.

There was so much pain in that experience: the memories, the intensity, the force, even the anger, the rage associated with all the suffering and abuse I had witnessed and also suffered. That abuse wasn’t just between individual people. It was systemic in organizations and institutions as well. As that glass ball exploded, all I could see was the dysfunction I had become mired in.

What Happens in the Shadow?

What happens to that emotion, that imagery from traumatic situations, the intensity of the experiences when they get shoved aside to the shadow? How does that material move and shift? Does it get infected in time? And by infected, I don’t mean a physical infection. Does it morph into even worse pain and emotion? That type of infected material in the shadow would make it even more ugly, stinky, and messy. And even less desirable to deal with.

How does the material in the shadow fester and foment? It doesn’t necessarily lie dormant. It moves. It shifts. Especially when you continue to shove more and more garbage into it.

When you continue to shove things aside, there is an ever-increasing risk of something collapsing, exploding, or deflating somehow.

When I think of how people handle and manage past trauma and the dynamics involved, especially in cases that involve horrific abuse and constant stress, I am impressed with how well people do function. When I think of the energy involved in pushing that aside and storing it somehow, I recognize that can be a significant amount of energy. I wouldn’t necessarily say it is “wasted energy.” After all, it is allowing a person to function in this world.

Does the shadow sometimes explode? I don’t know. After all, the shadow doesn’t show up on x-rays, MRIs, or other tests and scans. Thus, this can only remain a theory.

Yet it is a reasonable description of what it felt like to me.

For purists, maybe this isn’t what Jung meant by the shadow. That’s fine. I sometimes call it a “pus-filled, infected trauma ball.”

When that ball explodes, one of the worst things you can do is suppress it and try to shove it back in. Unfortunately, too often, people don’t recognize this type of process and eruption of emotion as something possibly beneficial. Too often, people don’t even acknowledge the accumulation of past (and present) stress and trauma. Instead the focus too often on behavior and biochemistry without adequate understanding of the person experiencing a crisis.

Jung recognized that such intense processes can actually be helpful. I think so too.

Ego Collapse and Fracture

It’s a ride, and it’s not for the faint of heart. ~Penni Kolpin

It was some time in the summer of 1998 that a friend used the phrase “ego collapse” with reference to his understanding of my experience. For me, that was an excellent description. It certainly felt like my mind collapsed and exploded all at the same time.

There are different ways of defining the ego. I definitely don’t mean the ego in terms of haughtiness and bragging.

  • Ego can mean a “sense of self”
  • Ego can also mean that sense which holds us into our physical world and gives a sense of security and a sense of protection
  • Or in Freud’s terms, ego could mean the filter between the subconscious and conscious mind.

With any of these three descriptions of ego, the concept of an ego collapse or an ego death matches quite well with my experiences. My sense of self and separateness was gone and any sense of security or protection vanished.

The Broken Filter

I didn’t learn of Freud’s description of the ego until 2019. The idea of the ego as a filter intrigued me.

Normally, only a fraction of what the subconscious processes makes it through the filter to come into our “conscious” awareness. The subconscious mind processes so much more than what we are “conscious” or aware of. The subconscious notices and processes everything. It is a real powerhouse. Simply in scanning a room, the subconscious must process, the items in the room, colors, textures, noises and sounds, such as music or conversations, and even words and numbers on signs or labels on different objects. As I understand it, according to Freud, most of that gets filtered through the ego so that the most important elements are experienced at the conscious level.

Now imagine that there is no filter. A person becomes aware of so much more around them – even when doing basic tasks. Body language, background music, colors, advertisements, and even comments and actions made by people nearby are no longer filtered. And everything is equally important.

I have told people over the years that “Its a ride.” There is no conscious choice to go through that experience. It’s not like you wake up one morning and say, “Gee, I think I’ll let my ego collapse.” Once that collapse started, there was no going back to who I was before. It was way too intense. I would even say that it wasn’t just a collapse of the ego, but rather a severe fracturing into a million tiny fragments. There was that much pain.

Wrong Focus

Through that process, was my biochemistry out of whack? Absolutely. But unfortunately, in my case, too often the focus was on the biochemistry and not on the actual injury and fragments. The goal was to get my biochemistry under control so that I could resume the life I had been living — the life that led me to a breakdown. That was a huge problem.

As with my analogy of broken knees, focusing primarily on a person’s biochemistry does not address the full situation. Understanding a person’s trauma history and social dynamics is vital to get an appropriate understanding of what a person has been living with. With too much focus on biochemistry, it is very unlikely that the person would ever truly heal and recover from the trauma — both the trauma that led to the collapse and the trauma introduced due to the process itself.

In addition, if that injury and collapsed condition is not adequately addressed, it is very likely that the person will limp for the rest of their lives.

I have long said that my experience is not an illness. And I knew it at the time. It was much more like a shattered leg. You don’t “cure” a shattered leg, you treat it so that it can heal and then strengthen.

In my experiences, too often the mental health models focus on illness, disorder and biochemistry rather than on mental injury and trauma.

Language matters.

Hatching from the Ego

The same friend who introduced me to the phrase “ego collapse” also did a play on the words ego and egg. He likened the evolution of dealing with a fractured ego to that of hatching from an egg. That, too, was a very helpful analogy to me since the experience I endured was exceptionally transformative.

Unfortunately, too often, effort is placed on trying to force a person back into that eggshell — back into the very role that “broke” them open. To the person trying to “hatch” from their own ego, there is no going back into that eggshell and no desire to do so.

In the early 1990s, I read M. Scott Peck’s book, Further Along the Road Less Traveled. When I was still in Banff dealing with the initial break, I recalled a concept that he wrote about — that when faced with a desert, there is no going back, there is only going through.

When it comes to my type of experience, I definitely agree.

The Game of Jenga

Jenga is a game made up of stacked oblong blocks that create a tower. The base is made up of three blocks laid next to each other which form a square. Then another three blocks are turned 90 degrees and laid on top of the first layer. Layers of three blocks are added to ultimately create a tower of 18 layers using 54 blocks.

Once the tower is built, each player takes turns to identify blocks that are “loose” in that they are not structurally holding much weight above it. The player can then push that block free and place it on top of the structure to start a new layer. As the game progresses, the initial structure has several blocks missing that have been used to add layers to make the tower taller. That is, the foundation is compromised in order to build a taller tower.

As the structure grows taller, the players know that the base structure is less stable. And at some point, the structure will collapse because the base support is weakened by the effort to build on top of it. That is, after all, the point of the game.

After the tower collapses, the blocks are arranged again to create a new tower as the starting point.

In a sense, as the game begins, that tower could be considered an established experiencebase. Some people may call it the ego, the mind or even the ego-mind.

  • The process of building the tower represents a child learning building their experiencebase. The child creates structure based on the world around them and how they feel, experience, interact with, and learn from it.

  • The lowest levels of the Jenga tower represent the foundations learned as a child with additional layers of experience and knowledge added as the child grows and understands more about the world around them.

  • As the “game of life” continues, there are times when we must rely on our initial resources to develop new things as we continue to grow.

  • If however, we pull too much away from the original base rather than incorporating new, additional resources to grow, we create vulnerable spots in the existing structure.

  • This can lead to collapse and can no longer support the new weight added in the form of growth.

Unlike Jenga, the blocks and pieces in an experiencebase are not equal. Some are based in health and accomplishment while others may be rooted in significant trauma and pain. In a sense, certain “blocks” in the experiencebase perhaps break or become rotted out and need to be removed and potentially replaced.

We often don’t understand those pieces and elements of how we structure memory, meaning, and significance in our own lives. We simply do the best we can. We may inadvertently add too much weight to an area that can no longer support it and BAM, that structure collapses.

This Jenga analogy does fall apart (pun intended) in that a person’s experiencebase is much, much more complex and multi-dimensional than the basic three-block layer in the game. Yet there are comparisons that may be of benefit:

  • A general understanding as to what kind of structure a person works from.

  • How does that person draw on their resources (each block) as they manage additional responsibilities (adding layers to grow the tower)?

  • Are sections of the tower becoming unstable as additional layers are added?

  • If so, how can those sections be reinforced?

  • Is there a point where sections of the tower fall or implode? (Maybe that’s a good thing in the long run.)

  • If the tower collapses, who can help the person create perhaps build a better tower for them to use going forward?

As with the game of Jenga, when sections of the experiencebase collapse, in order to continue, the tower must be rebuilt somehow. Unlike in the game of Jenga, when that collapse and implosion happens, there is a living, breathing, feeling entity that feels pain in that process.

Hopefully, as that structure is rebuilt, it can lead to a healthier future for the person involved.

Near-Death Experiences

With a near-death experience, life changes, love grows, and the universe moves into another world. ~ Petra Hermans

I have long been intrigued by accounts of death and near-death experiences.

In March, 2020, I picked up a copy of Eben Alexander’s book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterllife. His book describes his near-death experience in the midst of a physical health crisis. His body was in a coma for a week. During that time, his soul / spirit / consciousness experienced intense realms which he describes in his book.

As I read through the book, I noticed that some of his descriptions about what he observed and felt while his body was in a coma reasonably matched my own surreal experiences from my spiritual awakening / emergency.

I had heard about “ego death” years before, though when I looked into it, ego death most often referred to experiences when people took psychedelics. The ego “dies” and the person experiences other realms and levels of consciousness without the ego limiting the experience.. In most cases, when a person finishes their “trip,” the ego revives from its “death” and begins to function again.

A few months after reading Proof of Heaven, I came across another book written by a anesthesiologist who had a near-death experience while undergoing surgery.

The two accounts described both difficult hellish realms and glowing, loving heaven-like realms — within the same near-death experiences.

In both accounts, the authors indicated that their near-death experiences were extreme, extraordinary, overwhelming, and even miraculous. Both men described significant difficulty in returning to this physical realm (what we call reality). Having experienced something so much “bigger” and so much beyond anything they had ever heard of and imagined, returning to this realm was quite difficult since what they experienced was so magnificent in comparison — and so much more real.

In the early 1990s, I read Betty Eadie’s book, Embraced by the Light, which describes her near-death experience, which happened while she was staying at a hospital after surgery. When I read that book, I loved the imagery of what she described. I embraced her book and the description of her experiences. She, too, struggled for many months after her experience in “returning” to function in this physical world.

Near-Death Experience While Staying Awake

Apparently, near-death experiences are often quite intense and much more “real” than what a person experiences in this realm. And it can be difficult for the person going through that experience to deal with the intensity of that experience when trying to function in this realm.


Typically with near-death experiences, the physical body is immobilized somehow, whether on an operating table or in a hospital bed or sometimes even in a bed at the person’s home. While the person experiences another, extreme form of consciousness, the person is not awake (conscious) to this realm. They are “dead” to this realm. Well, at least immobilized.

In a typical near-death experience, the person is not interacting with the sights, sounds, impulses, and stimulation of this realm. They don’t have to worry about feeding themselves, getting dressed, paying bills, interacting with other people, or other daily tasks. With the body and mind closed from this physical realm, the person’s soul or energy can experiences something exceptional, something that is often beyond description. Those experiences can be positive or negative, very intense, life-transforming, and highly insightful.

Now have that near-death experience without losing consciousness to this realm. That is, have the intensity of a near-death experience while still being active and conscious in the physical realm.

What does that look like?

If someone has a near-death experience without losing consciousness to this realm, that could be quite a mess — and even more difficult to navigate. A person would also have to deal with the intensity and surreality of a near-death experience. AND at the same time, the person would still have to deal with their daily activity of the physical realm. The person is still awake and conscious to this world while potentially experiencing the intensity described in near-death descriptions.

As a result, a person would have potentially clashing realms of consciousness to deal with. And one of those realms is extreme, foreign, and perhaps quite unsettling or even frightening.

When flooded with another, more intense level of consciousness, a person could see the same world through a completely different lens. With the flood of additional consciousness, a person could potentially see, perceive and experience something beyond the physical realm.

Comparing my experiences to a near-death experience clearly wasn’t my first description for my type of experience. In fact, it took over twenty years for me to make the connection to near-death experiences.

I knew my journey had specific elements related to death and the fear of death. Yet I never realized that the overall level of consciousness I experienced was comparable to what others have described while they were near death or immobilized.

As I think about it now, I do see that my type of “awakening” could be described as a near-death experience — yet I was still awake and conscious to this world also. I had to try to function in this world while experiencing something ridiculously intense beyond what I had experienced before.

Compassion and Assistance for Extreme Health Conditions

I have known since the summer of 1998, when I heard the song “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS that in March, there were definitely “two worlds colliding” — the spiritual world and this physical world. And I was caught in the middle of that collision — and my friends were there with me from the other side to help me as I was buried in that collision

It’s interesting because people who face physical death situations typically receive a lot of compassion and concern. There is no disputing that the person faced some type of emergency. There is physical evidence of the danger. Though the person’s near-death experience may not be believed, at least there is compassion for the health crisis they endured and needed to recover and heal from.

Yet people dealing with an ego collapse and fracture and end up struggling with multiple realms of consciousness often receive no such compassion. Instead, too often, they face condescension, patronization, dismissal of their experience, and added trauma.

As more and more people understand the intensity of these other extreme forms of consciousness, maybe that will change. Hopefully, then people going through such a journey can be better assisted and acknowledged for the nature of their journey.

People’s accounts matter. The people who make the journey are the best to describe the landscape. With regard to these types of journeys, from what I can tell, the landscapes vary widely. Exceptionally so. In my opinion, that is all the more reason why people’s accounts matter, so that we can determine the different types of experiences to help people through them even better. Sure, each person can only describe their own terrain and path, yet it contributes to the overall cartography.


Experience is the only true source of knowledge. ~ Albert Einstein
We live in our minds. ~ Beverly Kolpin

I call it the experiencebase.

Experiencebases are the frameworks we create about the world around us. We operate continually within that framework. Simply put, an experiencebase is:

  • The compilation of our experiences, perceptions, memories, observations, conversations, feelings, emotions, language, and virtually everything we interact with.

  • The experiences and perceptions before we have cognitive and verbal skills to describe them.

  • Our interpretations of body language and other subconscious functioning.

  • It includes all of what our nervous system absorbs, whether we are aware or conscious of it.

  • Our theories about how the world an universe works based on what we have learned, experienced, and choose to believe. Though arguably those theories are also created FROM elements in our experiencebase.

The experiencebase provides the unique frame of reference from which we function. Some people may call this the “mind” or perhaps the “ego.” Both mind and ego are abstract concepts that seem to have multiple definitions. When I consider the concepts of mind and ego, I don’t envision a sense of structure and relationship between the individual experiences and memories that we individually experience. I look at the experiencebase as a massive database that we build from our cummulative experiences, even before we have the language to describe them.

Though the concept of an experiencebase is also abstract, it is related to the concept of a database, which includes elements and structure. When I have shared the concept and description of experiencebase with other people, they grasp the concept fairly easily and often think of their own content of how they navigate through life.

The experiencebase is what we function in as we operate within this realm. While growing up, my mom often told me, “We live in our mind.” While I agree with that in general, we are also constantly managing and navigating through our experiencebases. In addition, our experiencebases are always growing with new content being added with relationships consistently being created.

As you can guess, these experiencebases are MASSIVE. So much bigger than anything I could have imagined — until mine blew apart.

Problems With an Experiencebase

One of my theories is that much of what are labeled as mental health “disorders” and “illnesses” are cases where the structure of the experiencebase no longer serves a person very well. This may be due to conflicts because the structure is not strong enough nor stable enough to build more elements around it.

In some cases, the structure of the experiencebase may not collapse, yet a person experiences significant pain. In other situations, sections of the experiencebase may explode or implode, which leads to exceptional psychic pain and even difficulty in functioning.

What can make it difficult to help someone going through a difficult time or even a crisis is the differences in experiencebases between two people. Too often, the current mental health system does not take into account what condition a person’s experiencebase is in, nor the content involved.

That, of course, is just a theory. Yet that is a reasonable description for the very intense period of my life in 1998. At least that’s my take. And this comes from someone who has made the journey of her own mind.