Donor Roundtable #2: Defining Spirits and the Alternate Reality

The Conversation Continues: What are the Spirits and the Alternate Reality? What Glimpse may our Trance Experiences offer on the Nature of Reality?
by Laura Lee
We are all inspired the diversity, the common ground, the wisdom shared in the insights contributed by our vibrant, glowing, growing community. If you have not yet joined in, email us your contribution to this question so we may add to this ongoing  dialogue!
          We all had such a good time passing around the virtual talking stick in Donor Roundtable #1, where we shared how we all arrived at the portal of…..  There are many terms I could finish that sentence with. But when you are heading to that place where words seem inadequate, I want to pause and ask, just where is it we “go” when we cross that threshold from our ordinary into non-ordinary states by entering into the state of Ecstatic Trance? How do we talk about it? What terms might be  understandable to all, to encompass what is, truly, universal to us all? How do we talk about the “Spirits” in a world that does not recognize there could be…. again — what, exactly? Is it all in our minds, or do our minds “trance-mit” with the greater Universe? Now we’re getting into worldviews, collectively and individually. And how do we fit our trance experience into this? Always rich turf and we’ve been pondering the Nature of Reality since we gained self-awareness. It’s the Quest that encompasses us all, and whether we tackle it directly or not, we are impacted by the thoughts and experiences we hold on the matter (and non-matter) that shape our own worldview and our orientation to Life. This is the natural follow-up to our first talk: we are all answering that Call to Adventure, and its led us to… where and to what, exactly? A challenge to define, but whatever “It” is, it’s fascinating, enriching, rewarding, meaningful — and has our curiosity piqued. So we continue the exploration in our upcoming Roundtable Discussion. Many of our Sunday guest speakers have already joined in the conversation, see what they’ve said so far, below — plus some representational, evocative abstract drawings… Symbol is a primal language, and our Institute centers on the power of art!
I believe that CI’s Founder, anthropologist Felicitas Goodman, got it right when she declared that with this work of Ecstatic Trance, there is no belief system, no dogma, no -isms. This is for everyone, for all time. She used simple terms: the “Alternate Reality” and the “Ordinary Reality” to distinguish between the Ecstatic Trance state and our everyday, waking state. And she felt the “Spirits” are the best guide to informing us about their Nature, and the Realms they inhabit.
With Goodman making that clear in my first interview with her, it cleared the way for me to get further involved. I might take up a practice, but not someone else’s belief system; I reserve that task for myself. I know you do as well. We all are in charge of our own mindset, our own orientation to “The All”  — that’s part of the adventure of Life, and truly a sacred task between us and … “The All” (for the purpose of this invitation, I figure this is a term that’s about as inclusive and neutral as we can get in two words, to encompass both the Alternative and the Ordinary, all descriptors, and everything in-between!)
To share our notes and observations along the way is both illuminating and fun. And, being one of our favorite and most enduring topics of discussion, this topic was front and center in our Donor Roundtable Discussion for September 2020. We passed around the talking stick, and recorded the conversation. 
Here, for the emailed contributions, a bit of editing was done for length. To more easily differentiate my comments from those of our members, I’ve used different fonts, plus Italic and Bolds.
Mike Alder, working in IT, emailed in this comment:
That sounds an interesting topic of conversation, I’m struck by the similarities of ETP experiences to descriptions of psychedelic experiences and there is always the fascinating question of whether people connect just with the subconscious mind or is there a deeper connection between people or the collective subconscious or a higher power? One’s rational mind may prefer the former explanation but if one experiences non-ordinary reality it can be a profound sense that there could be more to reality than we are normally able to perceive.
Sister Margaret O’Rourke weighs in with:
 I wonder if Felicitas’ “Alternate Reality”, de Chardin’s “noosphere”, the scientists’ “Cosmic Mind”, the psychologists’ “unconscious”, the mystics’ “experience”, our dreams, Jesus’ “other Reino” are actually the same thing.  It seems that all are referring to a “sphere” where matter is less dense than our biosphere, which is less dense than the geosphere, which is less dense than the original matter.  I would like to hear what people from various disciplines think.  Is evolution all about matter becoming less dense?

Monica DeRaspe Bolles, a Teilhardian Cosmogeneticist at work bringing “The New Story” to a wider audience, adds:

Teilhard de Chardin spoke about the “spiritualization of matter.” If matter is just as eighteenth and nineteenth century physics envision, then matter must become less dense in the movement from elements, to geosphere, to life and biosphere, to humanity and the noosphere, because matter is making way for spirit (and consciousness) as reality complexifies. 
I think there is another way we might think about it. It is possible to understand matter and spirit/mind/consciousness as two aspects of the same reality if we understand BECOMING as more fundamental than BEING. The idea of tiny bits of matter require that we imagine a static world. But If becoming is more fundamental than being, “reality” is flowing inter-relatedness. In my view, the fact that the universe is developing in time must mean that constantly renewed interrelationships, not bits of matter, are the real stuff of reality. 
When we understand “becoming” as fundamental, we can imagine Spirit-Matter as MORE dense, more complexified, more deepened into inter-relatedness and co-relatedness as each new sphere holds relationships steady, giving rise to new spheres of reality wherein new potencies can be actualized. (And this reminds me of “convergence.”)
I like both ways of thinking about it – more dense or less dense with evolution, depending upon the paradigm of thought we are using.

Brian Tucker brings in the mythopoetic perspective, one of the most encompassing and accessible languages we have to embrace and articulate this journey:

I find that throughout our world’s many cultures, sacred prose and poetry plays a special role in activating our imagination about the Spirits and this “alternate reality” (often described as being nameless, formless, colorless, without beginning or end, both everything and nothingness, encompassing light and the absence of light). InJewish thought, a clever phrase “Ein Sof” (without end) is used as a symbol for the “all pervading one” to express the concept of a “something” that has no end, a point of beginning, a subject so vast, beyond human comprehension and materiality that words cannot adequately express it.

Similarly, in Christian thought, from the Gospel of St. Thomas “I am the light above everything. I am everything. Everything came forth from me, and everything reached me. Split wood, I am there. Lift up a rock, you will find me there.”  A treasure of Buddhism, the Hsin-hsin Ming: Verses on the Faith-Mind states that “Each thing reveals the One, the One Manifests as all things.”  While in Hinduism, The Katha Upanishad (2.2.12) expresses that “as the wind, though one, takes on myriad forms, so too the Spirit. There is only this One, inside and outside, transforming into the many.”

Linda Grace, advanced certified Rolfing practitioner, writes:

Once upon a time, we could see more of the alternate reality than we humans can see these days. To witness the halos of the people in the Renaissance paintings is one way to know this. To me, to somehow get the ego out of the way is the key to the way that I mostly want to exist, although I do as best I can enjoy the egoistic pleasures of having a vocabulary that can encompass science and that part of alternate reality which Dr. Goodman called the riding of of the wind, the All.
In the early ’80s, when I acquired the knowledge and ability to go past the “common knowledge” of the reality of body structure and change it, I finally got it that working with an individual person/body required that I get out of the way of my egoic knowledge, and I began to say the trance-like Lord’s Prayer as I began work with someone. I said this version: “Our Father, who art in heaven, Thy Will not my puny little one be done as it is in heaven”. This worked, I began to tune in better to a person’s needs within the promised framework of my learned work. Of course, this prayer flew in the face of my feministic and theistic-agnostic egoistic self, but it seemed to work in getting my ego mostly out of the way.
So, what is this riding of the wind? Trance states appear when called or even willy nilly in our lives, but in this riding of the wind and heat (and other trance manifestations) we welcome a structured trance state and revel in the primitive capacity of ourselves to go there in search of our primitive family, me mostly not knowing or caring, a going past my certain knowledge of “how things are” into a land of possibility. Am I tuning in to “The All”? Maybe. Is there a “The All”? I’m saying there is, and we can tap into it.
Barbie Maraviov, Reiki practitioner, and one particularly sensitive to subtle energetics, adds:

Such intriguing questions are being posed. I can’t say that I know where I go when in trance or meditating, by myself, in a group or even when I’m doing an energy healing….I just know that I go somewhere “other” in all of those cases.  And it’s not always the same experience or to the same place.  I have felt alone, I have felt completely integrated and I have felt everything in between.  I can feel my body, I can hear my mind, I can feel myself (my spirit, if you will) lift out of my body, I can feel my mind go quietly to the corner.  For me the experience is human and it is spirit.  It is the difference between “thinking” and “knowing” and, for me, comes down to a matter of “faith” that we are all connected and what we do and say and think has an affect on everything else.  I know that when I go “there” I hear the wisdom, I see the extraordinary, and I feel connected in a way that I have not experienced on this side of the veil. There is a wisdom “there” that I feel honored to be allowed to tap in to.  Specifically, the group trance/posture experience is unique in that there is a sense of community when we share our experiences.  So many similarities in each of our stories.  The connections are intriguing so say the least.  Will we one day be able to recognize each other there?  I hope so.

Shelley Woodrow, our CI teacher in Sydney, Australia, writes:

Ah – such great questions that I love to mull over but never seem to be able fully grasp! These are things that can be examined from a number of different standpoints – neuroscience, chemistry of the brain, brain physiology, psychology, metaphysics – but none can do justice to the lived experience of the Alternate Reality. Believing that neural circuits are involved or that “the God Spot” in the brain might be involved does not diminish the value or significance of the experience in trance. I do believe that the language of poetry gets one closer to a way of talking about this…. but the alternate reality is way more than poetry or art. As FG said it is not symbol or metaphor. It’s like trying to explain the experience of childbirth or the experience of a first kiss There is a point where words just can’t get there.

I believe it is an alternative way to experience a lived experience … what Iris Murdoch calls “Unselfing” which enables us to experience a truly integrated mind … Without the “I”  we enter our indigenous mind without the direction and editorialising of our ego/executive mind. We find ourselves INSIDE nature rather than observing nature. We are one with the ALL. This “Unselfing” is so gloriously liberating and therapeutic… and I believe an essential part of building community and empathy and compassion.

In the Alternate Reality one enters a realm where you get into the deeper levels of the psyche to the place where imagination and dreams are made…. one enters the mythic field. And because we humans are inherently poets, storytellers, meaning makers we find the threads that make sense of what we subjectively experience in trance…. find insights and wisdom and comfort… and joy.

And from CJC – Shamanic Practitioner, Ecstatic Trancer, Nonprofit Fundraiser & Animal Advocate:

Practicing Aikido and Yoga trained me in how to move energy, but It was being initiated into Shamanism that led me to connect with nature, the stars and spirits in a manner that gave me my road map for “whom or what” I’m communicating with in trance, meditation, vision or journey. 

I thoroughly enjoy Ecstatic Trance because it has opened the door for me to connect to nature, source and creator energy in a most potent way, but which for me, absolutely takes a faithful step into the unknown to “get there.” While grounding myself in nature, I can experience the embrace of a breeze or the fragrance of the ocean, it is a distinct sense of knowing I am one by tapping into the myriad of interconnected physical sensations running through me.  In trance, I have the amazing opportunity to experience direct connection as I do in nature, but instead of grounding, it’s a complete letting go. What comes back has been the answers to my wildest questions about who I am and why we are all here, in this together. 

Tony Hull, astrophysicist and archaeo-astronomer, has long pondered the phenomenon of coincidences, and adds:

 What an interesting question! From the science perspective, we are in the middle of an enigma, where it appears only less than 5% of our universe is in atoms.  The rest 24% dark matter that bends space-time, and 71.4% dark energy that resists the forces of gravity causing the universe to expand.  Within these, there are amazing structures evoking relativity to begin to define. If we were to look at the density of the observable universe, I have read it would be about 5 hydrogen atoms per cubic meter.  The nature and distribution, past present and future of particles, dark matter and dark energy constitute one foci of astrophysics of the 21st Century, matched in my opinion by the now viable search for and imaging of exoearths, with potential for intelligent life around other suns.
Intuition and coincidence; I am faced with a multitude of impressions and events unexplainable by “it is just coincidence or six degrees of separation again.  One observation is the more we recognize this “other reality”, mark what it tells us, the more the “other realities” are revealed to us. Are the other realities separable…? for now, I don’t know.  I don’t want to factor before I see a pattern and need.

      I am quite convinced that scientific discovery COMES to the scientist who deeply considers a problem.  Then the language of mathematics and science is used both to describe and to go to the next level.  These languages do not solve the problem without inspiration, without a voice. This has been true for all my discoveries.  I choose not to name this with some of the wonderful terms used by others, for the simple reason I believe there are doors that the other world welcome being opened, and that the very methods of science can be used, but we should ask the questions not presuming the answers.  Even science tools like filtering of small signals buried in large noise, Monte Carlo research designs/questions, large populations of willing people connected by smart phones, and even multivariate Bayesian Mathematics with large data being fit to families of models.  There is so much to see, to feel, to observe! We are using Trance to make some of this visible, and the experiences I have and that I hear from you all register deeply.  There are steps of inquiry that can follow.  And yes, to me, many more than 5 senses reveal to us constantly… in rocks, buildings, in art, music, food, the animal world, weather, and of course the sky.


Christine Van Pool, an anthropological archaeologist, looks at the worldview of various ancient cultures, and shares this perspective:

Various shamans, mediums, and mystics around the world believe that our physical eyes hide the “real” world: a spirit world. In other words, we are blinded by our normal senses. Often it is trance states that our senses are open and the veil is lifted.  Hundreds of groups around the world believe that spirits are real; they can be helpful, harmful, or indifferent to humans.  This perspective seems backwards to American sensibility, which is largely based on visual and (to a lesser extent) audio senses experienced during waking hours. And how would I define spirits? Spirits are agencies with consciousness that are not constrained by a physical body. Some cultures, like the Aztec, believe that humans have several spirits in their bodies.  One of these spirits is what enabled the Aztecs to engage in soul flight and communicate with other spirits. Other groups believe that humans have a single spirit within them, while others believe that plants and animals and even rocks and clouds have spirits as well. Many believe that the cosmos has its own spirit breath, which is a common belief among the Eastern Pueblos of New Mexico.

Judy Lemon, a shamanic practitioner and teacher says:

I believe there is a creator spirit, who some may call God, who is pure energy and love, and whose immensity cannot easily be fathomed. Growing up Catholic, I learned that God made man in his own image, but not until many years later I was able to understand this wasn’t the physical body, but rather the immense spiritual forms that are our true immortal selves. Each of us is a spark of the great creator, hence the saying that all men are brothers, that we are all one.   If I consider that at its base, the universe is really just a massive, intelligent energy field, then this energy can be partitioned into different levels depending on the electromagnetic frequencies. We talk about high and low level beings that inhabit the various levels of All That Is.

Louise Gilmore, teacher of many modalities of consciousness raising, shamanism, and energy work contributes this:

All the comments I’ve seen are so deeply-thought, so erudite that my mind spins. My actual experience is that I am already ‘there’, although there is actually no ‘there’, or ‘here’. There is only vast consciousness, or awareness, overlaid by the story developed by my ego, to help me function in the world. All the ‘realms’ or ’spheres’ etc are functions of that ego or mind. As soon as there is a story, it is evidence of the mind at work. That is not a bad thing and we can access some very relevant and interesting stories, but ‘who I really am’ just watches on, peaceful. It is always right there, no searching required.
      The questions ‘what are spirits? and “where do we go?’ become irrelevant. They are all part of the story of the mind.
We are drawn to very young babies because they do not yet have a persona; they are wide open space and at some level we recognise and relate to this (and remember it). I once had the good fortune to spend a few seconds in close contact with HH Dalai Lama. He has the same wide open spaciousness and we few people, because we are already this, recognised and met him there.
I like paraphrasing Felicitas on these key points: .”..with this work of Ecstatic Trance, there is no belief system, no dogma, no -isms. This is for everyone, for all time. She used simple terms: the “Alternate Reality” and the “Ordinary Reality” to distinguish between the Ecstatic Trance state and our everyday, waking state.”  Except … that from my perspective, Alternate Reality and Ordinary Reality are parts of the same story of the mind. Then, there is the truth of awareness or consciousness that encompasses it all, watches it all, but has no words, no stories ‘no belief system, no dogma, no -isms. That’s what makes it so hard to talk about, explain, define.

Carolyn Pokres, an IT Program Manager for the FAA and a student Shamanic practitioner writes:

I have been connected to Spirit all my life – have known and seen things that were to come.  Posture work has given me proof that what I have seen and known are real.   I’ve had messages in posture that I was able to verify with historical documentation afterward.  We are all one in the universe, just “packaged” in different forms.  Souls are still part of that package.  The messages from the Spirit World are so strongly suggesting that we need to respect our Mother Earth and all creatures that reside with us.  It has been a blessing for me to learn about Ancient Ritual Postures and be able to assist in keeping Dr. Goodman’s work alive – with the added bonuses of communicating with spirits on a regular basis and connecting with such a loving, accepting, like-minded Tribe !!

Mareev Zehavi, environmental activist, and author on indigenous cultures and ancient history notes how ETP weaves nicely into traditional wisdom. She writes:
As westerners who have lost the spiritual elements of culture, I’m not sure we can really answer these questions. Happily, I have always had an open mind for these types of questions, and that has been validated by other wiser and more experienced leaders as a valuable way to proceed. So I remain a seeker rather than letting myself give in to believing only in any one explanation. Doing trance postures keeps revealing important information that I do not get using just the rational mind. And we know there are modalities that most humans can’t sense, like ultraviolet and other wave lengths of light, trees and plants talking to each other, whatever it is cats sense when they stare at particular spot . . . who knows if any or all of these work on us in ways we don’t know, beckoning us, pushing us away, guiding us, etc. So what is it? where do we go? how does it work?
There are patterns in the natural universe… Also in human development and behavior there are natural patterns … in Chinese traditional medicine … the foods that are eaten at specific seasons, massaging of acupuncture points, qigong exercises, etc etc — all are meant to align oneself to these natural patterns so that you are in synch with them and not in conflict with them. And the two Indian teachers I’ve followed said the same: Keep yourself open to possibilities, along with practices to do that. One of my teachers describes it as realization vs understanding. 
And for me, the trance postures do that, allow me to open into a non-rational mode to get messages about how to align myself. Not having had any psychic experiences, I don’t understand that world, but the trance postures allow me to get little glimpses of it, lately a lot of them useful for bringing back to “ordinary reality.” And I’ve been appreciating that other world ever since adolescent experiences of it through psychedelics showed me its enormous beauty and how everything is vibration. Although I’ve read voraciously in my life, I haven’t explored western thought on this much, as Indian and Chinese and indigenous teachings have so much to say about direct experience.”
Joseph Goldfedder, acupuncturist, sent us this, with these evocative drawings:
In my experiences with ecstatic trance, crossing the threshold from the ordinary world into a non-ordinary state, Spirit was waiting for my participation. It’s almost as if Spirit was saying, “come on already, let’s get this party started.” And so, that’s when I would feel a descending energy. As a means to attempt talking about it, I like using the word energy as a workable term.  It’s the energy I feel when the “trance-mitting” or transmitting begins. Energy is movement that’s free from physical limitation. Sensing this energy is a process of relaxing, stepping back and allowing. Or you could say, the energy of spirit fills us full.  This energy, like breath, flows and moves in ways taking us on a journey of the unexpected.  Moving in, out and between the ordinary and non-ordinary worlds, we become the observer.
In the process of my creative work, drawing for instance, I don’t think of myself going into a trance, but I do feel a shift in my consciousness in ways similar to Ecstatic Trance.  I am both aware of where I am and a world contained within the confines on my paper. There’s joy making lines on paper, energy moving through me with color, form, and communication in visual language that’s freeing. Drawing, like trance, is an attempt to manifest imagery from subtle planes of vibration by allowing my hands to guide me.
I have included a few pictures of recent drawings. Hopefully, they convey some of the ideas I am trying to express.









Write to and we’ll add your musings to this article. It’s been such a joy to host CI’s Zoom events, and to add special events and articles to showcase all the wisdom and insight of our growing community. Thanks for being part of the CI Circle! — Laura Lee