2. Resounding Silence
Sometime in the late 1970s or early ’80s, a medical student named Carol North was having a tough time of it. She had just flunked a crucial exam, and was depriving herself of sleep in an intense effort to study for the next one. As she burned the midnight oil in her room, she suddenly found herself in the grip of a numenal experience. The quotes are from her own account of it: she said that “a SuperReal feeling entered me through the top of my head and invaded my entire body”. Her body began to move of its own accord, under command of a spiritual source. She stood up, and her textbook fell out of her lap. A column of light came down from above the ceiling and encompassed her; she felt as if it were opening her skull and pouring numenal energy into her naked brain. It traversed her body and funneled down from her feet through the floor. She stood utterly transfixed in this condition as a conduit for six hours, as messages from the Beyond pulsed through her being. She later recalled that the messages were “a complex mixture of Religion, the Supernatural, Ancient Philosophy, and Scientific Technology”.
There came a point when she felt completely overwhelmed, and fell into the nether regions below the floor, meaning beneath the physical world. Surrounded by a sense of evil demonic forces, she called on God for protection. There followed an experience in which she totally dissolved into God, and then realized her own identity AS God. After a timeless moment of divine Self-realization, she felt a revulsion against this enlightenment, and wanted to just be her own mortal self again. She came down from the Godhead into an intermediate state where she grasped “incredible Truths about the real Laws of the Universe”. In this numenal realm, “I found that incompatible Truths could coexist without creating dissonance. Only God and certain enlightened beings could absorb such contradictions without imploding in on themselves like a black hole.”
Finally she came out of the heightened state; her muscles ached as if she had been doing hard physical labor all day. She picked up her book and tried to simply get back to her mundane studies, but found herself surrounded by residual numena for the rest of the night, until she fell exhausted into bed.
The account by Carol of this event rivals that of any number of mystics, saints, or magi in artfully describing the content of a supreme spiritual experience.
Now let’s dolly the camera back a bit and scope out the context of this apparent miracle right here in postmodern times. Who is Carol North, and what is her case? The answer is that she’s a mental case! A diagnosed schizophrenic ~ or she was, until a mundane-medical type of miracle occurred, delivering her from all “psychotic symptoms” forever (e.g. the type of experience described above); it allowed her to live a perfectly normal life henceforth, in which she graduated from medical school and went on to become a psychiatrist.
The story is taken from her autobiographical book, Welcome, Silence. Published in 1987, it was acclaimed by leading lights in the field as the most astonishing chronicle ever written of what it’s actually like to be schizophrenic. Carol’s lucid descriptions of the bizarre content of her day-to-day life made for a gripping psychological bestseller.
From early childhood Carol perceived non-ordinary/non-physical phenomena (i.e., what I’m calling *numena*); this included seeing discarnate beings and hearing voices. The wealth of descriptive incidents gives us an idea of the vast range and variety of such events. Often the voices were just a cacaphony of simpleton-level wisecracks and nasty nonsequitors; but there were other times, and other voices, that verged into the profound.
The visually and tactilely perceived numena likewise varied greatly in kind and quality. Things appeared that were ghostly, demonic, or merely frightening; but on rarer occasions there came beings of a higher calibre, whose visitations were sometimes positive in nature.
Even after repeated stints in mental hospitals, Carol remained convinced that ultimately her problemwas not medical or psychiatric, but spiritual. The text of her book, written after her remission, utilizes the terminology of her thought-patterns when she lived in an altered/psychotic state of being. Thus we learn that Carol conceptualized her experiences as occurring in “HyperReality” or “HyperReal Dimensions”. She felt that she had “otherworldly connections” with numenal beings, including the supreme powers of the universe who were responsible for guiding human destiny. She also used the concept of “Parallel Worlds” to try to get a grip on the alt-realities which often collided with her life in the material realm. Above I mentioned her term SuperReal . She felt that this was a profound concept beyond words, but there’s a powerful scene in which she tried to describe it verbally to an empathic shrink. She told him that it’s “stronger and harsher than usual reality”, that it could sometimes be as exquisitely painful as a toothache, and that it often overwhelmed her, making her incapable of functioning in the material world because of the confusing numenal overlay.
Perhaps the most amazing part of her story is contained in the incidents in which the numenal forces tangibly affected the material world in evidential ways. These events made a powerful impact on Carol herself, providing what seemed to be objective proof that the alternate realms and their inhabitants were irrefutably real.
The first such incident happened when she was a little girl: she rode her bicycle too far afield, and got hopelessly lost. She started hearing voices which gave her directions and successfully guided her home. Other incidents involve detailed descriptions of psychic phenomena, like when as a girl she got her dog to do specific tricks entirely at her mental commands, without the slightest cues of voice or body language. With practice she worked her way up to doing it with people: sitting quietly in class she mentally provoked her teachers to do extremely specific things like scratching their nose and dropping the chalk. She had thoughts of further developing this kind of psychic remote control, but ethical considerations caused her to desist.
Years later in medical school, there came the event I described at the beginning of the chapter. Carol flunked the exam because she was in a state of extreme mental confusion, and allowed her low-level voices to dictate all the answers. There followed the high spiritual experience I described next, and this enabled her to level out for awhile and become functional enough to get by. She took on a grueling externship as part of her program for medical school, working 100-hour weeks at a local hospital. Not surprisingly, this led to another breakdown and a readmission to the psych ward. She got discharged with the help of the empathic shrink, who prescribed a combination of megavitamin therapy and psychiatric drugs.
Back in the challenging regimen of her medical studies, Carol had another remarkable numenal experience. A feeling of deep, lucid calm came over her, and she heard a new voice which announced itself as a messenger of the Holy Spirit; she also identified it as a “Good Angel“. The being assured her that she would succeed in medical school if only she surrendered to God and followed the promptings of this angel, God’s messenger. The experience had a profound positive effect on Carol ~ it produced a sense of inner peace which lasted for days.
Soon afterwards she took a make-up exam in pharmacology, to get the credit for the one she had flunked before. It was a special oral exam, one-to-one with the professor. Unlike many of the profs, he seemed to be a kind and very human individual, and she felt he must have some spiritual understanding. As soon as he began asking the questions for the exam, Carol experienced the presence of the Good Angel right behind her. She went into a numenal state of lucid empathy with the professor, and did so well that he gave her a grade of 100%. Later she found out that the prof had been astonished at her performance ~ in fact he thought that she must have an eidetic memory, because she had answered some of the questions by repeating verbatim long passages from his lectures during the semester.
What Carol gives witness to here is compelling evidence for a form of “divine intervention” in what our culture and the psychiatric establishment lumps in with the delusional pathology of mental illness. It’s not necessary to buy into the belief-systems of any of the established religions to see that the event shows that Carol and people like her are sometimes able to tap into higher numenal powers which can affect them and people around them in positive ways, by means that are considered miraculous or supernatural by mainstream society.
In fact numenal power is the most natural thing in the world. It’s only the false worldview of modern materialism that makes it seem crazy. In a society so debased that it doesn’t believe in God (or any form of Higher Power), then the encounter by an individual with a messenger of God will be seen as insane.
The plot, however, is thicker than that. A lower, baser category of numenal beings had spoken to Carol during the previous test, and caused her to flunk. So taken as a whole, the evidence from Carol’s case indicates a broad range of numenal experience, numenal realms, and numenal beings. The prescription for a person who periodically has experiences across this scale should not be drugs that stifle the experiences, and hence the soul, but rather a regimen of spiritual training enabling her to “test the spirits”, to rigorously reject and banish the lower/demonic ones, but to heed with full heart the miracle-working messengers of Higher Power.
This option was not available to Carol. However, her psychiatrist was open to a broad range oftreatments within the medical model, and so it was that he advised her to try kidney dialysis. This was on the cutting edge of experimental cures for schizophrenia, and produces positive results in only a minority of cases. For Carol, the treatment resulted in a total, dramatic, permanent remission. After her second dialysis, she made a literal overnight transition from the mental/emotional/spiritual state that is labelled schizophrenic, to one that certainly deserves to be called normal ~ for better or worse.
Carol accepted it as much better, in fact as a spectacular cure and deliverance. As with the rest of the book, her crystal-clear description of the event provides us with great insight into the actual, experiential distinction between the two states. In her awakening to “normality“, Carol was first of all astounded by the “deafening silence” ~ the utter vanishment of what had been the constant background noise of voices and other numenal sound effects. She was flabbergasted to realize that this silent, clear, unmitigated state was what normal people experience all the time. She was now relieved of the burden of overlapping realities, of HyperReal/SuperReal/Parallel Worlds impinging on the material one, forcing her to constantly sort out one from the other. Now everything was simple and easy, very ordinary and straightforward, “bland but beautiful”.
The overlay of higher meaning had likewise vanished from life as she knew it, but she expressed noregret. The only statement into which we might justifiably read a regretful nuance was when Carol said that now for the first time in her life she felt truly alone.