Clinical Approaches to Unusual Experiences: Grand Rounds at Cambridge Hospital with Dr. John Mack

February 2, 2000

Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals often see clients whose experiences seem unfamiliar and do not fit the categories of the DSM-IV, the standard manual for psychological diagnoses. Our tendency in such cases may be to treat the experiences as pathological or to force them into categories to which they do not belong.

On February 2nd, Dr. Mack and Roberta Colasanti, LICSW, spoke at the psychiatry Grand Rounds of the Cambridge Hospital (a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School) to address how worldviews shape how we think about cases, and what clinical approaches may be more helpful to people who bring their unusual experiences to therapists.

Dr. Mack’s newest book published

December 31, 1999

John E. Mack’s newest book, Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters, is the culmination of five years of additional research (since 1994’s Abduction) with more than 200 people who have reported encounters with beings often described as aliens (“experiencers”). A trade paperback edition is being released in November 2000. The book is dedicated to the experiencers with whom Dr. Mack has worked over the past ten years.

“I am interested in the meaning of these experiences for the so-called abductees and for humankind more generally,” Dr. Mack, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, writes in the preface. “In that sense, Passport to the Cosmos is not simply about abductions but has to do with what such anomalous experiences and related phenomena can tell us about ourselves and our evolving knowledge of the nature of reality.”

Dr. Mack presents common themes that have emerged in his work with experiencers from the West, as well as experiencers from indigenous cultures from northern Brazil to South Africa.

In an interview soon after publication, Dr. Mack said, “I have come to feel this phenomena is a very complex engagement of a larger intelligence (‘Source’ is the word most often used) through perhaps intermediaries (the ‘aliens’), towards some apparent end, which is the evolution of consciousness and the preservation of this planet.”

“The people who have the experiences move. They change. They grow. They transform. They become Earth-conscious. That is why I seek to give them voice, for they become passionate on behalf of the stewardship of the Earth.”

Passport to the Cosmos is arranged in topical chapters that explore the emergent themes through the lenses of philosophy, anthropology, theology, developmental and transpersonal psychology, trauma theory, consciousness research, and physics. These explorations are laid out in four sections. The first one introduces the phenomenon and asks the reader to question the way in which one’s worldview affects the ability to integrate new information.

Next, Dr. Mack explores the theme of “protecting the Earth”, an environmental message many experiencers receive, and examines reported reproductive procedures that seem to suggest a “hybrid project” has joined humanity and the alien beings in a sense that may be both literal and symbolic.

A cross-cultural perspective is explored at length in the third section. The experiences and philosophies of experiencers who have lived in indigenous cultures — including Native American Choctaw member Sequoyah Trueblood, Brazilian shaman and anthropologist Bernardo Peixoto of the Ureu-eu-wau-wau (“People of the Stars”), and South African sangoma Vusumazulu Credo Mutwa — are compared and contrasted with those of experiencers whose upbringing has been solely in the Western worldview. Dr. Mack suggests that much can be learned from indigenous cultures about ways to approach this phenomenon that may enhance both the acquisition of information and our integration of it.

The final section of Passport to the Cosmos explores the trauma and transformation that experiencers go through as they enter into a relationship with their experiences. The experiences, Dr. Mack concludes, ask much of the participants — experiencers, researchers, and the greater public alike. However, Dr. Mack believes that if humanity can successfully move beyond the terror of the unfamiliar on both an individual and institutional level, we can learn much more about humanity’s relationship to the cosmos in which we live.

During an interview on NBC’s The Today Show, host Matt Lauer asked Dr. Mack, “Why would it benefit me to read these people’s stories in this book?”

“The purpose of doing this work,” Dr. Mack replied, “is to open us to the idea that the universe may be vastly more interesting, containing entities, energies, beings that we did not know existed. When we open that consciousness, we open to a larger reality. We’re not simply Earth-bound in our consciousness as if we were the top intelligence in the cosmos. We come more modestly to realize we are in connection with energies, beings, whatever it may be that is beyond ourselves. And that would be a very healthy development for this species, it seems to me.”

On that theme, Dr. Mack replied to radio host Bob Hieronimus’ inquiry about why he chose the title Passport to the Cosmos. “Passport is a word used to maintain borders between countries. These experiences, by cracking open that ethnonational bias or restricted consciousness, if you will, that mistaken identity that we are simply members of a certain country, people discover they are citizens of a much larger reality, of a cosmic reality. They are citizens of universal experience. And the universe is not particularly concerned with white people, black people, Americans versus Russians — the universe as far as I can tell is not dividing itself that way. The idea of the title is that this experience can expand our sense of who we are beyond our national prejudices.”

Soon after the hardcover’s release, calls and letters from the public were arriving at PEER daily. A stockbroker from Cocoa Beach, Florida, wrote, “Why do we pick up books we have never heard of, and then are tremendously influenced by them forever? Yours has done that to me. Passport to the Cosmos has opened up an entirely new perception of the universe for me.”

PEER Visits New York

November 17, 1999

The Program for Extraordinary Experience Research (PEER) visited New York City in mid-November to formally introduce Dr. Mack’s new book, Passport to the Cosmos, and to present to the public a summary of our current understanding of the nature and meaning of the alien encounter experience. The event was held in the main auditorium of the New York Academy of Medicine on Fifth Avenue.

Before the evening’s presentation, a prototype of a musical piece by composer David Ison was played. Mr. Ison’s composition for PEER, “Voices of the Experience”, features the voices of experiencers excerpted with permission from PEER’s clinical sessions. The music moves from rhythms of fear, to a place of unknowing, to reconnection. The excerpts from experiencers were selected to reflect these stages.

Beginning the presentation, PEER’s clinical director Roberta Colasanti, LICSW, provided an overview of the stages of evolution from trauma to transformation that PEER’s clinical team has seen in working with experiencers.

She stated that the reactions of fear, denial, compartmentalizing, depression, and intense questioning are all parts of the process of adjusting one’s worldview in the face of conflicting information. Using data from PEER’s 80-subject comparative personality study, she examined each of the diagnoses that are typically suggested as explicatory of these experiences, and explained why they fail to adequately account for the phenomenon.

A central question arose from her presentation, namely, “After we have faced the reality of these experiences, what do we do next?”

Dr. Mack then spoke at length about where his exploration of this phenomenon has brought him, and where it may lead our Western culture. Later in the program, they were joined on stage by a woman whose recall of her alien encounter experiences began unexpectedly while she underwent a routine acupuncture procedure.

Rising enthusiastically from the audience at the start of the question and answer period, actor Dan Aykroyd asked how many members of the audience would try to prevent having further experiences if it were possible to do so, and how many would choose to continue having them. Amajority raised their hands in favor of continuing to have such experiences.

An experiencer in the audience spoke of heightened compassion for humanity that arose from having interactions with beings whose telepathic communications seem to flow into her body. She asked the audience to consider how we as a culture could communicate with each other and diminish our isolation from one another — an isolation which, like many experiencers, she feels quite profoundly and is painful for her to see around her. She spoke of the difficulty of living in a culture that does not value or trust other people, let alone visitors from afar.

Pioneering researcher Budd Hopkins joined the conversation to suggest that until we are able to interact with the beings as equals, we should hold them with the same distrust that some people hold the United States government.

The event drew a lot of interest from the media with coverage from Jane Hanson of NBC television, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe. An audio excerpt of Jane Hanson’s interview with Dr. Mack (which was not aired) is available:

Listen to Jane Hanson of Today in NY (7 min excerpt of an unreleased Nov 17, 1999 interview with Dr. Mack)(mp3)

State of the World Forum, San Francisco hosts Dr. Mack and an “experiencer”

October 1999: State of the World Forum, San Francisco

The State of the World Forum, held October 1 to 6 in San Francisco, gathered more than 800 luminaries, leaders, and futurists from around the world to develop and examine systemic solutions that impact business, politics, and human development into the next millennium. It is in a spirit of mutual respect and inquiry that discussions are held, accentuating the ethical and spiritual aspects of the issues as they arise. The annual conferences seek to quite literally explore the “state of the world” in all its multidimensionality. This Fifth Annual State of the World Forum was a special anniversary event launching the forum’s millennium programs.

Dr. John Mack and Dr. Michael Zimmerman (see p. 3), participated in “A Conversation at the Edge of Human Knowledge and Experience” with philosopher Rick Tarnas, author of Passion of the Western Mind, and transpersonal psychology advocate Georgia Kelly. They were joined by an experiencer who shared lessons she feels we are expected to learn from alien interactions with humankind. Dr. Mack also contributed to a forum moderated by Daniel Sheehan featuring Donald Beck, Guru Charan, Brian Greene, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Ralph Potter, Beverly Rubik, Brian Swimme, Richard Tarnas, and Marianne Williamson.

A high level of engagement was reported during this and many other conversations that addressed the edge of humankind’s understanding, and PEER is looking forward to continuing relationships with many of the people who shared in this dialogue.

Dr. John Mack in Dharamsala, India

September 1999: Dharamsala, India

Dr. John Mack traveled to Dharamsala, India, where he was part of a symposium invited to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama to explore how to create a culture of peace. The convener of this meeting was the Association for Global New Thought, with co-direction from the Synthesis Institute and the Dearborn Institute.

In an interview with New Dimensions radio, Dr. Mack was asked what came into focus from being in Dharamsala.

“What I take from this is a skillful means of interrupting cycles of violence. The strategies, or new forms of power, have to be much more imaginative, inventive, and powerful than ever before.”

“Power is the latent, creative energy in the universe. Power is not dominating another person, or conquering another nation.”

“The problems in the world, in a large part, derive from the fact that the people who are willing to use that power destructively are less afraid to use it, than those of us that seek a higher level of consciousness. It’s as if a higher level of consciousness is synonymous with a retreat from power. But it must not be that way. We must use new, imaginative ways of compassion, persuasion, influence, saying no — All kinds of things which are non-violent, but are also powerful.”