​Inner Ecology and Liminal Spaces 

Guest blogger Sharon G. Mijares shares her conference paper from the 36th annual SAC Spring Conference. Her paper was part of the Mapping  Individual   and  Cultural  Space:   Occultism,   Inner   Ecology  and  Embodied  Cognition panel of the Wisdom Sits in Places conference. If you would like to know more about Sharon Mijares please check out her bio.


Restoring a deepened sense of inner ecological connectedness is vital for humanity’s future.  We need to know and improve our inner landscape, embracing our own inner distinctions and diversity in order to heal the outer world. Archetypal presences can illuminate an awareness of unknown territory. There are places where split off parts of the soul reside, isolated and disconnected from wholeness.  They can lead us into liminal spaces, thresholds of awakening.  Individual healing and expansion illuminates paths for global transformation.

Inner Ecology and Liminal Spaces

© 2016 Sharon G. Mijares, Ph.D.

Liminal spaces are described as “in-between moments” a space of waiting, not-knowing, a potential space of transformation. What opens the doors to these moments?  Many depth spiritual traditions teach one to focus on the pause between the inhale and the exhale or the space between the drum beats.  These are the places where one can enter or slip into another reality.  One can also enter into them without any preparation – a jolt into the unknown.

Consciousness is everywhere and in everything

Generally, consciousness is defined as an “awareness of the mind of itself and the world.” But consciousness is multilayered and not easily explained.  There are altered states of consciousness that can lead us into those liminal spaces, whether it comes by a transcendent spiritual experience initiated through trance; hallucinogenics; breath work, such as holotropic therapy; meditation; chanting or the like (Mijares, 2009; 2016). These processes open consciousness beyond the ordinary mind.

They also open the deep consciousness within our bodies. Be aware that stories are rising from the cellular structures within our bodies. We can learn to listen to the qualities of the breath, a sigh…and observe subtle changes of moods and thoughts. Far too often we limit consciousness to our cerebral hemispheres and fail to hear the narratives whispering, or perhaps shouting, within the consciousness of our tissues and organs. The body is teeming with archetypal energies, subpersonalities and transformative spaces—but more often than not it replicates the disconnection we see in the world.

The great analyst Carl Jung (1964) embarked upon his own inner journey, allowing the archetypal realm to move through him. He saw this as a way to help heal the world. It is also our work to open the gates and experience the vastness and unity within this experience called life. It also means exploring liminal spaces where shadow forces abide. These can both block and lead to the soul, but Jung (1946) noted how “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious” (p. 99).

We can readily observe the disconnection taking place throughout the outer world, but often fail to see the ways we mirror it.  Contributions to this dissociation have conspired to entertain and delude us from our true nature, i.e., social media, religious controls, academic influences, media and advertising, shopping as well as the overall stress of daily living.

The majority of people are disconnected from one another, from nature and from ourselves.  Do we feel and intuit the disconnecting elements limiting the consciousness within our own bodies?  Inner ecology requires a deepening journey into the depths of our own beings.  Somatic awakening is the door to true spiritual awakening (Washburn, 1984).

The Sufi poet Rumi alluded to the magical power of the breath to awaken our awareness of archetypal presences within the body. This message is found in his poem, “A Goal Kneels,”
The inner being of a human being is a jungle.

Sometimes wolves dominate,

sometimes wild hogs.

Be wary when you breathe!

At one moment gentle generous qualities,

like Josephs, pass from one nature to another.

The next moment vicious qualities move in hidden ways;
Wisdom slips for a while into an ox!

A restless, recalcitrant horse suddenly

becomes obedient and smooth-gaited.

A bear begins to dance.

A goal kneels!
Human consciousness goes into a dog,

and that dog becomes a shepherd, or a hunter.

In the Cave of the Seven Sleepers

even the dogs were seekers.
At every moment a new species rises in the chest

now a demon, now an angel, now a wild animal.

There are also those in this amazing jungle

who can absorb you into their own surrender.

If you have to stalk and steal something,

steal from them! (Barks, 1990)
The poem also highlights the idea that mythological, archetypal narratives are woven into the fabric of the body. Archetypes are psychic structures containing biologically related patterns of behaviors consisting of certain qualities and expressions of being. They are related to the instinctive life forces motivating the world’s mythological stories (Mijares, 1997, 2012) as well as our own lives. Our center of attention is focused from lofty cerebral watchtowers and we fail to hear and feel these narratives and guidance whispering within the neural pathways of our beings. Our breath is held, our sensitivities dimmed and fixated by limited attention. The body is alive with archetypical presences waiting to be acknowledged – available to give greater meaning and balance in our world.

Do unconscious entities such as archetypal energies, sub-personalities, introjects and ego-states have a specific brain location or are they manifesting through the cells, molecules and neural pathways of the body-mind (Mijares, 1995, 1997, 2012)?  The body holds the memory of individual and collective neglect and abuse. It also holds the memory and knowledge of vast domains of consciousness.  As we heal ourselves, we heal the world. Memory is inherent within the DNA, genes and cellular structure of the body-mind. The body’s memory becomes activated as neural winds and consciousness stream through the neural networks.  These forces can also be dangerous and fearful.

Jungian analyst Robert Stein, once discussed a client who was experiencing what he called a “regressive infantile seizure.” The client was somatically gripped by an archetypal force acting through him despite his intelligence and mature awareness. In his contemplation, Stein came to the conclusion that “if we lift the veil of our rational analytical bias, we may catch a glimpse of the offended deity who has become incarnate in the pain and anger of the psycho-somatic process.” Stein then asks, “What transgression has caused the painful agony of this greater power to overwhelm him? What offerings or what sacrifice must he make so that harmony, order and wholeness can be re-established?” (1976, p. 74).

Stein explains that his client was caught up in performance-oriented social and mental activities, denying the needs of feelings and body. Until he submits and allows this balance, opposing powers will continue their war within his body-mind. This neglect manifests in individual somatic complaints, mental disturbances and illness. Culturally it manifests in substance abuse, violence and depression, obsessions with social media and anything that contracts awareness.

On a global level, when we take this knowledge to the larger world we can see how the radical terrorist group Da’ish is acting out violent archetypal energies. They represent responses to vast imbalances, stifled voices –manifestations of the neglected self in the individual, the culture and the world. Its’ nature has become that of revenge. In one of his lectures on Tibetan Buddhism titled “The descent to heaven,” the late Joseph Campbell illustrated Tibetan teachings on enlightenment, including blissful and wrathful deities within body consciousness. It is all part of the process. We are seeing the Bardo acting out in the external world. The Bardo is the realm in between life and death. The newly departed journeyer is seeking liberation from the wheel of karma (Thurman, 1994). Hallucinations, terrifying images and so forth are part of the journey that can lead to enlightenment. The journeyer needs to recognize the illusions and focus upon the goal. We are there folks!

So what do we do?

We need to artfully and willingly enter into deeper consciousness. We need to leave the illusion of safety in the ego, and drop into the underworld of our being—slip into those liminal spaces.  Carl Jung’s explorations into the unconscious were indicative of his own embarkation on the hero’s healing journey (Groesbeck, 1989; Jung, 1963, 1964). At the outbreak of World War, he realized that he “had to try to understand what had happened and to what extent [his] own experience coincided with that of mankind in general. Therefore [his] first obligation was to probe the depths of [his] own psyche” (1963, p. 176). Archetypal forces began to flood his consciousness as Jung allowed the control of the ego-mind to relax its’ binding grip. He let go and entered liminal space. He began experiencing a steady stream of fantasies which he could not control. He realized he needed to understand these manifestations forcing themselves upon him. In describing his experience he wrote that he, in his words, stood helpless before an alien world; everything in it seemed difficult and incomprehensible. I was living in a constant state of tension…But there was a demonic strength in me, and from the beginning there was no doubt in my mind that I must find the meaning of what I was experiencing in these fantasies. (pp. 176-177)

Jung found himself experiencing intense psychic assaults as he entered unconscious realms and the onslaught began, but he stuck by his unswerving conviction that he was following a calling. He instinctively knew he had a task to fulfill.

During this period Jung used yogic exercises to help subdue the intensity of emotional flooding. In this journey he personally experienced the powerful forces of the anima, animus, divine child, warriors, demons and sages that are an integral part of humanity’s consciousness. As Jung utilized the inherent power of Eastern yogic exercises based upon breath and physical movement he was further invoking the unconscious realms within the body.

Breath—the essence of life

Eastern spiritual traditions use the breath to reunite mind and body (Mijares, 2009). Mythological narratives are often initiated by breathing practices. This is especially true of Stan and Christina Grof’s process of holotropic breathwork (1988, Grof & Taylor, 2009), a process in which the participants breath faster and deeper for two hours or more. In the liminal spaces that open, cells begin to quiver, muscles quake as messenger molecules travel through the awakening neural circuitry of the body. Literally! The breathwork stimulates the body’s innate intelligence as messenger molecules activate nodal points in the neural information system of body consciousness. When we enter these deepened states of consciousness, the egoic self leaves its cerebral control tower. It is forced into acknowledging its limitations, recognizing there is more to consciousness than itself. Something calls us to take these inner journeys.  It begins what Joseph Campbell (1949) referred to as the call—an awakening to the hero’s journey.

During the awakening of the body-mind, the cerebral and feeling selves become cognizant of each other. But soon another stage in the heroic journey emerges as the obstacle surfaces. This experience is spoken of as a dragon at the gate or similar metaphors. Processes of enlightenment and/or soul retrieval are traditionally challenged by an archetypal, wrathful force at the gate to the hiding place of the treasure.

These strange manifestations are familiar expressions of healing and emergence processes recognized by spiritual teachers of Eastern and Sufi orientations and also by depth psychotherapists using trance processes. In Sufism the subconscious selves and archetypal forces are called the nafs. These presences are seen as part of the journey to Authentic Self, similar to the Tibetan work in the Bardo realm.

Plant Medicine

A new narrative needs to be written that includes psyche and soma (soul and body) while acknowledging the pathos of the human experience as a heroic journey leading to the emergence of authenticity of self. Our humanity is deep in this process.  We see all the manifestations and are caught up in the fear, violence or some illusionary form of escapism, as we’re still caught up in the old narrative influenced by all the karma of the imbalances initiated through patriarchal ideologies and practices. But this is changing. The revolutionary spread of Ayahuasca is helping with this journey as it is leading many practitioners around the world to reconnect with Nature as they enter into other realms and ways of knowing—guided by the wisdom inherent within Nature. It is no accident that these plants, previously hidden in the depths of the Amazon, have emerged and are appearing in various nations around the world. They have been evoked to help us with this transition, moving many beyond the confines of the ordinary ego.

The late mythologist Joseph Campbell said “The passage of the mythological hero…is inward–into depths where obscure resistances are overcome, and long lost, forgotten powers are revivified…” (1949, p. 29). The world’s legends, folk tales and mythological stories describe various stages of the hero/heroine’s journey. Campbell writes that “Each of these bibliographies exhibits the variously rationalized theme of the infant exile and return” (p. 323).

The exiled infant represents our original, pure being.

As noted earlier, themes of dragons and demons guarding the entrances to caves or castles wherein hidden treasures, babies or young maidens reside are often found in myth, legends and fairy tales. In The hero with a thousand faces, Joseph Campbell wrote that,

The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors, odd beings, terrors, and deluding images up into the mind–whether in dream, broad daylight or insanity; for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unsuspected Aladdin caves. There not only jewels but also dangerous jinn [Arabic word for etheric spirits] abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers that we have not thought or dared to integrate into our lives. And they may remain unsuspected, or, on the other hand, some chance word, the smell of a landscape, the taste of a cup of tea, or the glance of an eye may touch a magic spring, and then dangerous messengers begin to appear in the brain. These are dangerous because they threaten the fabric of the security into which we have built ourselves and our family. But they are fiendishly fascinating too, for they carry keys that open the whole realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self. Destruction of the world that we have built and in which we live, and of ourselves within it; but then a wonderful reconstruction of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life–that is the lure, the promise and terror, of these disturbing night visitants from the mythological realm that we carry within. (p. 8)

Our environment, the earth body, has been neglected as evidenced by the pollution of water, earth and air. Deep healing can result on an individual and planetary level as we integrate and harmonize our mind, feelings and somatic expression.

Rumi warns “be wary when you breathe” for the journey to authenticity can be a treacherous one. Opening to liminal spaces means opening to what is unknown. Archetypal forces of the collective unconscious are present both enabling and preventing the retrieval of authenticity and realization of our divine nature. We enter into new realms gain its gifts, but find ourselves still living and participating in the world.

Joseph Campbell found a common strain in the world’s mythologies concerning the heroic journey. This stage, called the “Return,” speaks of the hero’s return and treasures shared with the community. Healing can occur individually and collectively as we begin to honor these mythological narratives manifesting from within the embodied mind and heal the split between heaven and earth as we develop an inner ecology and enter liminal spaces leading to transformation. The last stanza of the Rumi poem alludes to this journey,

At every moment a new species rises in the chest

now a demon, now an angel, now a wild animal.

There are also those in this amazing jungle

who can absorb you into their own surrender.

If you have to stalk and steal something,

steal from them! (Barks, 1990)



Fordham, M. (1974). Jungian views of the body-mind relationship. Spring. 166-178.
Groesbeck, C. J. (1989, July). C.G. Jung and the shaman’s vision. Journal of analytical psychology, 34,(3),
Grof, S. & Taylor, K. (2009). The healing potential of holotropic breathwork. In S. Mijares (Ed.) The Revelation of the Breath: A Tribute to Its Wisdom, Power and Beauty (pp. 95-106). NY: SUNY Press.
Grof, S. (1988). The adventure of self-discovery. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Jung, C. J. (1969). On the nature of the psyche. The collected works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 8. Princeton: Bollingen series.
Jung, C.J. (1968). Psychology and Alchemy, The collected works of C.G. Jung, Volume 12. Princeton:  Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. J. (1964). Man and his symbols. New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc.
Jung, C. J. (1963). Dreams, memories and reflections. London: Collins & Routledge).
Mijares, S. (September, 2016). Indigenous knowledge and shamanic ways: Inner journeys and soul retrieval. In S. Mjares (Ed.). Modern psychology and ancient wisdom: Psychological healing practices from the world’s religious traditions. Revised Edition. New York: Routledge Mental Health.
Mijares, S. & Fotiou, E. (2015).  Earth, gender and ceremony: Gender complementarity and sacred plants in Latin America. Journal of Transpersonal Research, Vol. 7(1). 57-68
Mijares, S. (2012) Fragmented Self, Archetypal Forces and the Embodied Mind: Dissociative and Re-associative Processes. Saarbrücken, Germany: Lap Lambert Academic Publishing.
Mijares, (2009). The Revelation of the Breath: A Tribute to Its Wisdom, Power and Beauty.. NY: SUNY Press.
Mijares, S. (Winter, 1997). Narratives and neural winds. In Somatics: Journal of mind-body arts and sciences. Novato, CA.
Stein, R. M. (1976). Body and psyche: An archetypal view of psychosomatic phenomena. Spring. 66-80.
Thurman, R. (1994). The Tibetan book of the dead. New York: Bantam Books.
Washburn, M. (1994). Transpersonal psychology in psychoanalytic perspective. Albany: State University of New York Press.


Sharon G. Mijares SAC Board Member Bio


Sharon G. Mijares, Ph.D., is a graduate of the Union Institute. Her research “Fragmented Self, Archetypal Forces and the Embodied Mind“, focused on trauma and somatic consciousness and is now published under the same name. Sharon is Associate Faculty at National University currently helping to develop the new Integrative Psychology degree program, Core Faculty at the California Institute for Human Science and Adjunct Faculty at Brandman University and has been a visiting professor at the UN University for Peace.  She is the author/editor of six books focused on psychological and spiritual development. Her last book (edited) A Force Such As the World Has Never Known brought women together from around the planet to share their concerns and efforts to better their communities and the world. The second edition of her first edited book, Modern Psychology and Ancient Wisdom: Psychological Healing Practices from the World’s Religious Traditions brings experts representing various religious and spiritual traditions together to demonstrate deep transformative practices inherent within spiritual practices. Her own chapters discussed the Nature-based traditions, Goddess and Shamanism. She has earned Shodan rank in Aikido, and has also led workshops to empower women in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Egypt, Mexico, Scotland, Uganda, United States and Venezuela. She is also a member of the SAC Board. On a personal level she is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and currently lives in Nevada City, CA.

For more info see http://www.psychospiritual.org 

Sharon can be contacted by email:  sharon.mijares12@gmail.com


Honoring the Feminine through the Use of Sacred Medicine

Honoring the Feminine Through the Use of Sacred Medicines.
By Alyssa B. Gursky (Psychology major at Naropa University)

As you begin to read this passage, I ask you to, for a moment, check in with your own body. To step outside of your head and drop into the beautiful, unique space that is your body and send every inch of it love.

Are there parts that you feel more tension in than others?
Give those parts of yourself extra love.

The same love you would give to a child. Unconditional, pure, love.
Every scar, every stretch mark, every curve, every bone,

On your next breath, I’d like to invite you to honor every day that your body has not failed you.

It’s difficult. Re-building a relationship between the body and mind.  We compare and contrast and break ourselves down to meet this picture perfect image that some underpaid, overworked human behind a desk spent hours photo shopping.

We are not photo shopped. We are real, we are perfect, and we are unique.

How can we not see? The goddesses that we are. The past does not matter. The inner goddess is always waiting to be seen. She does not hold on. Just patiently waits for us to join her in our true power.

Albert Einstein once said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

My journey of healing and reclaiming my goddess within could not have taken place if it was not for this message. I needed to see my patterns and problems from an objective point of view before truly realizing how much they did not serve me.

My story is one of chemicals, medicines, entheogens.
For those who are unfamiliar, Entheogen translates to “generating God, the Divine, from within.”
It was time for me to stop looking out and start looking in.
My inner goddess was waiting for me.

I had been incredibly empowered by the work of an organization that is known as MAPS, or the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. They had been doing research on using psychedelic substances to heal mental illnesses. I wanted to join them in this fight. This fight is to provide such a clear path of healing for souls that truly needed it. Souls much like mine, who were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress. Souls who were unaware know that their bodies could even be felt.

I wanted this healing.
I wanted the feeling of feeling my body and loving every inch of it. I just didn’t know how to access it myself.

So I asked the universe for medicine, in whatever avenue possible.
And it came.


One eighth of an ounce of mushrooms came to me. Psilocybe Cubensis. That day, I consumed them. I thought they’d be an escape. Quite the opposite, it turned out, a true awakening.
Late at night at my parents home (sorry mom and dad), I laid in my bed, sobbing. I cried until I couldn’t feel my face anymore. Rubbing my arms and legs, begging for forgiveness for not being with my body any sooner. I have been overweight for a majority of my life and thought I had been experiencing rejection from the world because of this.

It wasn’t until my consciousness was altered that I realized that this whole time, it has been me. I locked myself in a prison and projected judgment of myself onto others for my whole eighteen years of life. I tried being someone else. I tried being someone else before I knew who I even was. I had diagnoses and labels put on me. I was peeling all of these off having no idea what I’d find underneath.

After this acknowledgement had been made, I felt ecstasy. These shackles were removed and I was free. The walls around me did sort of start to melt, but that’s also just a facet of the medicine. The tears transformed from pain to joy. I was home. This body, no matter how jiggly it is, was mine to change. My inner goddess and I became one.

I’m in charge. This is my body. This tattoo covered, love filled, body is mine. This is my life. This wasn’t an overnight fix in my psyche, but it really did lay out the groundwork for my self-work and professional calling for my adult life.

A quote by Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, has been very dear to my heart throughout this transformational journey. “My life seemed to be a series of events and accidents. Yet when I look back I see a pattern.”

Now, nearing the age of twenty-one, I see the beautiful, complex, and colorful patterns that are my path.

While this may be my path, I honor that there are a multitude of paths for every individual.
*I feel compelled to state that I am not condoning or promoting medicine use, as these medicines are currently illegal in the United States of America. If you or someone you know has had powerful and/or life changing experiences with the use of sacred medicines, please head to http://www.MAPS.org, look at their resources for integration, and donate whatever amount you possibly can, as they are actively researching methods to give us access to psychedelic assisted psychotherapy. They are about to begin their phase three study with MDMA to treat PTSD, which I have the honor of being a night attendant for. However, there are many ways to induce non-ordinary states of consciousness. For example, ecstatic dance, certain yogic traditions, binaural beats, sensory deprivation, breath work (such as Holotropic Breath work, Tummo meditation, or the Wim Hof method) interaction with nature, or sitting meditation. This is just a short list, but I encourage you to reconnect or even connect deeper with your body in any way possible.

SAC 37th Annual Conference Call for Papers

​Call for Papers

SAC 37th Annual Conference

March 29th – April 1st

Encinitas, CA

Transforming Energy into Action
The concept of “subtle energy” is fundamental to many of the esoteric principals and spiritual beliefs that have been part of our world’s cultures since time immemorial.  Variously called qi (chi), mana, prana, chakra, wakan, keyoi, holy spirit, cosmic ether, life force, etc., these traditions emphasize that all things, including humans, are made up of a network of complex energies and energetic fields.  The theme of the 2017 conference concerns the diverse ways in which these subtle energies can be manipulated or transformed and the significance of these practices to the world today.
We invite papers, panel proposals and workshops on topics such as:
Rituals, spiritual traditions & techniques that transform consciousness

Transformative healing and other energy healing modalities

Phenomenology and subtle energy research

Transformative power of myth and archetypes

Entheogens and psychoactive substances

Dreams and the transpersonal

Liminal states

Mind-body interaction / Interface between spirit and matter

Shamanism as a path of transformation

Anomalous human abilities (clairvoyance, psychokinesis, levitation, etc.) 

Addiction and altered states
We also invite submissions of artistic works and experiential workshops that explore the interrelationships among subtle energy, consciousness and healing.  Suggestions for experiential workshops include, but are not limited to: subtle energy and creative expression, sound therapy, trance-inducing music and dance, qigong, tai chi, kirtan, chakra balancing and guided meditation.
Proposals for individual papers, panels, workshops and special events should be submitted by December 18th, 2016 to conferencesac@gmail.com.  Registration fees should be paid to AAA before submitting abstracts (we will notify you when registration link is active). If your paper is not accepted, you may request a refund of your registration fees. Submissions will not be accepted unless registration is completed by the submission deadline. Acceptance notifications will be sent by January 13th, 2017.
Limit: one paper or presentation per person, unless prior approval has been obtained from the Program Chair. Session organizers may submit individual papers for inclusion in their sessions. Please indicate whether you will require audio-visual equipment for your presentation. A projector, screen and laptop will be made available.
HOTEL REGISTRATION: The 2017 conference will be held at the California Institute for Human Science in Encinitas, CA.  Conference participants can stay at the nearby Encinitas Inn & Suites at Moonlight Beach.

Please contact the reservation desk and mention that you are with SAC to receive a special room rate: (760) 942-7455  http://www.bwencinitas.com/
Questions? Please contact Program Coordinator Brian Bartelt at conferencesac@gmail.com

Transforming Energy into Action

SAC 37th Annual Conference
March 29th – April 1st
Encinitas, CA

Transforming Energy into Action

The concept of “subtle energy” is fundamental to many of the esoteric principals and spiritual beliefs that have been part of our world’s cultures since time immemorial.  Variously called qi (chi), mana, prana, chakra, wakan, keyoi, holy spirit, cosmic ether, life force, etc., these traditions emphasize that all things, including humans, are made up of a network of complex energies and energetic fields.  The theme of the 2017 conference concerns the diverse ways in which these subtle energies can be manipulated or transformed and the significance of these practices to the world today.

HOTEL REGISTRATION: The 2017 conference will be held at the California Institute for Human Science in Encinitas, CA.  Conference participants can stay at the nearby Encinitas Inn & Suites at Moonlight Beach.

Please contact the reservation desk and mention that you are with SAC to receive a special room rate: (760) 942-7455  http://www.bwencinitas.com/

Questions? Please contact Program Coordinator Brian Bartelt at conferencesac@gmail.com

Interested in presenting a paper, organizing a panel, or offering a workshop? Contact the conference organizers at conferencesac@gmail.com by December 18th, 2016.

September 2016  SAC Letter from the President

21 Sept 2016
Dear SAC Members,

It is my pleasure to reach out to our members with several big pieces of news about SAC. I would also like to solicit your feedback on where we might go from here as a community. This is the first of what will be biannual letters from the SAC Board and President. We hope that you find this communication useful, and invite any contributions that you wish to share. 

The world around us is changing rapidly. Mail lists and printed letters have been replaced largely by digital media. Websites and social media are the new hub for communities, and SAC has taken several steps to place our organization at the forefront of this new era. We have taken the design and management of our web presence into our own hands, resulting in a more personalized new website and WordPress blog. 

Visit the website at http://www.sacaaa.org  

The blog can be accessed from the website, or directly at https://anthropologyofconsciousness.wordpress.com 

While visiting you will notice that the blog has several content categories: Announcements, AOC experientials, Member highlights, Conference papers, and AOC Journal. These categories allow us as an organization to do more than we ever have before. SAC has a long tradition of scholarship, but we also strive to create a space for sharing and discourse around people’s experiences (no matter how strange they may be). Long ago experientials were part of the AOC Journal. We are bringing this back, and adding to this dedicated online spaces that highlight what our members are doing. The Conference paper category is another way of getting your work noticed independent of the AOC Journal. The final category, AOC journal, shared the table of contents and abstracts for the journal with links to articles.  Please take this opportunity to help develop the content in these categories. Submission can be sent to our new Social Media Chair, Sydney Yeager. sydneyyeager@gmail.com. Currently Sydney is managing content as we develop a Social Media team to manage our online presence. 

In time, members will be able to submit content directly as well as engage each other in dialogue through a new online platform that we are developing for release in 2017. This platform will be an open access platform with the content categories in the blog transferred to a dedicated website. In the meantime, you can go to our Facebook page to engage the community: https://www.facebook.com/anthropologyofconsciousness/

The website, blog, and Facebook page are the new face of SAC to the world. Taking advantage of communication technology, our reach is now truly global. At the same time, we will maintain our mailing system (for those not interested in new systems), emailing out occasional letters and keeping all core SAC news available on the main website.

With our new capacities, the question now is “What kind of presence do we want to have?”

For the past two years the board has discussed our stance, and we feel the best way to answer that is to ask you. Is SAC a purely academic organization, or is there more to us that we wish to make a statement about? Consciousness is a big topic, and we are one of the oldest organizations to have examined it. Yet we remain a small voice. Do we want to reach further? Do we want to take an activist stand?

There are two ways you can contribute. First, at the upcoming AAA and 2017 SAC conferences we will host a dialogue about this subject as part of our business meeting. Please speak up. Secondly, you can make your ideas known by contributing to our blog. In the digital media era, identity can be whatever we want it to be. We have core values as an organization, but we are also diverse. The only way to show that to the world is to make yourself known, so please submit materials for SAC to publish online and in our journal. 

Once we have heard from the membership, the SAC board will be rewriting our bylaws to reflect our new stance and the policies that need to be in place for that vision. The new bylaws will be made available online for any members wishing to know more about how we work or the responsibilities of any position they are considering running for in elections. If you want to be more involved, let us know by joining one of the board subcommittees (or start your own). We especially need volunteers to help us with social media, so if you like to post stuff related to consciousness please let Sydney know. 

The final piece of news for you comes after much commentary on the spring conferences. We all love retreat locations. Inclusive semi private conferences in a place of great natural beauty are a preference, much better than the typical hotel with a ballroom full of uncomfortable chairs (sorry AAA). Yet these retreats are also costly. For three years we held the conference at McMenamin’s in Portland Oregon, and we lost money every time.  After much consideration, we have come up with a plan to rotate conference locations biannually. One year will be a retreat style conference, and the other a partnership with an organization that serves both of our mutual interests. Through these biennial partnership conferences, we can do more to integrate with other organizations, which will help bring in new members and create opportunities to share our collective wisdom.

In 2017 we begin this rotation with an incredible partnership with the California Institute for Human Sciences (www.cihs.edu). CIHS is widely known for its cutting edge research into the field of energy medicine with a device called AMI, which is an apparatus to measure the function of the meridian points invented by Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama. Please visit their website for more information on the institute. The call for papers will be sent shortly. This will be our first subtle energy themed conference. Exciting!

For this year’s American Anthropological Association 115th annual meeting in Minneapolis, MN, from November 16-20, SAC is sponsoring two sessions focusing on evidence and consciousness from two different perspectives.  

The first session, Perceiving the Improbable: The (Hard) Evidence of Consciousness (Weds, Nov. 16, 4-5:45 pm, Room 0475) seeks to bridge subjective and “hard science” frameworks in relation to consciousness. This panel hopes to embrace this “suspension of disbelief” mantra of anthropologists.  We hope this panel will offer brisk dialogue about the intersection of “hard” and “soft” ways of understanding.  

The second session, Propaganda and Evidence (Sat, 4-5:45pm, Room 1060) focuses on how power structures and material culture interact with the consciousness of large groups of people.  Inspired by the circus-like, propaganda filled American presidential election (which will have occurred a week prior to the conference), this panel will explore the various ways people are influenced by “facts” and how those “facts” are manipulated – both in the way they are presented and the way they are interpreted.  

In addition, our keynote speaker for the SAC business meeting is Stanley Krippner (Sat, 7:45pm-9:00pm, Room 1175), renowned scholar of transpersonal states and dreaming. 

To conclude, SAC has been very active in these times of transition. We have an amazing board full or energy and enthusiasm helping to bring a new reality forward. We invite you to join us by speaking up and sending in content for us to publish. We thank you all for being part of the SAC community, and look forward to seeing you at the AAA and SAC Spring meetings. 
Bryan Rill, PhD

SAC President


Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness Session

Saturday, November 19

4:00 PM – 5:45 PM

Minneapolis Convention Center, Room: 103D

Session Description: Inspired by the circus-like, propaganda filled 2016 American presidential election, this panel aims to richly describe how power structures use evidence to influence the consciousness of large groups. While evidence is often thought of as a set of objective “facts”, evidence can be highly manipulated through media channels to influence thoughts and behaviors. This panel will answer the following questions: What is the relationship between evidence, propaganda, the media and consciousness? How is evidence culturally constructed? How does propaganda influence groups? And how, in turn, can consciousness affect evidence? Finally, this panel will describe what the subjective/objective aspects of evidence and its connection to propaganda means for us as citizens, researchers, and practitioners. This panel is gonna’ be HUUGE!

Organizer: Mark Flanagan Piedmont Hospital Cancer Center

Chair(s): Mark Flanagan Piedmont Hospital Cancer Center  &  Bryan Rill The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong

Discussant: Bryan Rill The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong


Propaganda and Healthcare

The Influence of Propaganda on Vaccination Decision-Making

What a Great Party! the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong

Propaganda As Evidence; Political Unrest in Brazil

“Za Dom Spremni”: Collective Memories and Contested Pasts Among Croatian War Veterans

Discussant: Bryan Rill


Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness Invited Session

Saturday, November 19

8:00 AM – 9:45 AM

Minneapolis Convention Center, Room: 101H

Session Description: Responding to the theme of the 2016 AAA meetings, this panel explores dreaming in and of the field as ‘evidence, accident, discovery.’ How can we begin to make sense of the enigmatic significance of dreaming as a component of both fieldwork and the subsequent process of interpretation? Are some projects more dream-intensive than others? In what ways may dreams bleed through or haunt our waking hours in the field? If dreams, as Stefania Pandolfo has written, “are never one’s own,” then from what location in the intersubjective space of fieldwork do they speak? And why should dreaming remain somehow a suspect, even slightly scandalous idiom of ethnographic experience? There is a longstanding anthropological tradition of accounting for the meaning of dreams ‘in other cultures.’ We propose a different kind of question: how to make sense of dreams as symptoms –auguries, anxieties, returns – of the ethnographic encounter itself. Papers will prompt reflection on themes such as dream interpretation as an art of government; the productive untimeliness of dreams vis-à-vis ethnographic experience; the fictive status of dreams vis-à-vis the presumed ordinariness of field encounters; ethnographic moments that might just as well have been dreams; the forms of self-confrontation vis-à-vis our ethnographic choices that dreams may prompt; waking attachments to external signs of dreaming in states that hover between life and death; and the need to rethink the conventional critical trope of collective awakening in the face of infrastructures that, as they decay and unravel, disclose unexpected and ambiguous dream worlds.

Organizer & Chair: William Mazzarella University of Chicago

Discussant: Stefania Pandolfo University of California, Berkeley


Out of Context, Everything Is Extraordinary

“the Master Down There,” or the Politics of Dreams

Milk of Amnesia: Coma and the Limits of Living

‘dreams Need Money…after Seven in the Morning’

After-House / Dream-House

Discussant: Stefania Pandolfo


Society for Psychological Anthropology Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness Invited Session

Friday, November 18

4:00 PM – 5:45 PM

Hilton, Room: Salon B

Session Description: One of the central observations of psychiatric anthropology is that specific conditions (depression, schizophrenia, panic) present with somewhat different symptom profiles in different social worlds. There have been a number of ways to describe this phenomenon. Hacking called it “looping” (see too Seligman and Kirmayer), Csordas “the sensory mode of attention,” Desjarlais and Throop “modes of existence,” and Kirmayer, most recently, “enacting.” A recent volume by Hinton and Good, Culture and Panic Disorder, edited by Devon Hinton and Byron Good, shows how these looping processes play out for panic disorder. Another edited volume by these same editors, Culture and PTSD explores the complex fit between the DSM-5 understanding of trauma and the way in which PTSD appears in different social settings, and the way that broader socio-emotional concerns like “ontological security” shape the salience and expression of symptoms. All these approaches suggest that phenomenological experience is always the result of the interaction between expectation, cultural invitation, spiritual practice and bodily responsiveness. This panel explores this phenomenon using the “kindling” concept to theorize cultural variation in bodily expression. The “kindling” hypothesis was first articulated by Emil Kraepelin, who observed that to the extent that actually demoralizing events—a job loss, a breakup, a bad relationship—play a role in a first episode of depression, they play a less important role in later ones. If someone has ever been clinically depressed, it takes less in terms of real life knocks to lead them into depression a second time. Becoming depressed becomes a habituated response. Cassaniti and Luhrmann suggested that the kindling phenomenon could arise when the local culture served a similar function in a religious setting in shaping the way people attend–what they sense and feel in search of evidence of the spiritual and lowering the threshold of its identification through the body. More specifically, we suggested that some phenomena are more responsive to kindling than others. We suggested that: First, a phenomenological experience is an interaction between cultural invitation and bodily physiology. By “cultural invitation” we mean the implicit and explicit ways in which a local social world gives significance and meaning to sensation, whether mental or bodily, and the behavioral practices (like meditation) that may affect sensation. Second, when a local social community gives significance to specific sensations, either fearing them or desiring them, sensitivity to having an experience of the supernatural increases, requiring a lower threshold for such experiences, than in a community in which people do not have such supernatural experiences and in which such fears and desires are hypocognized or unelaborated. Third, the more (or less) that the experience of the supernatural is associated with a specific physiology (like sleep paralysis) the more (or less) the frequency of the event will be constrained by an individual’s vulnerability to these experiences. The panels offers a wide variety of different examples to discuss the best way of understanding this phenomenon.

Organizers: Tanya Luhrmann Stanford University & Devon Hinton Harvard Medical School

Chair: Devon Hinton Harvard Medical School

Discussant: Laurence Kirmayer McGill University, Canada


Julia Cassaniti Weighted Idioms: Categories of Lightness and Heaviness in Thai Spiritual Phenomenology 


Cordelia Erickson-Davis Kindling a Sense of Presence: Lessons from Virtual Reality

Pablo Seward Delaporte A Comparative Critical Phenomenology of Drug Addiction Among Mestizos in the Upper Huallaga Valley, Peru

Jeffrey Snodgrass Fostering Emotional “Immunity” to Terror and Trauma: Ritual As a Source of Health Resilience for Indigenous Indian Conservation Refugees

Devon Hinton Supernatural Assaults Among Cambodian Refugees with PTSD: Nightmares, Sleep Paralysis, Hallucinations, and Migraine-like Auras

Discussant: Laurence Kirmayer


Friday, November 18

5:15 PM – 5:30 PM

Hilton, Room: Salon B

Presenting Author: Devon Hinton Harvard Medical School

Cultural frames influence radically the experiencing of such disorders as trauma, panic disorder, and schizophrenia. In this talk, I will show how cultural frames shape the Khmer experiencing of trauma, leading to a great emphasis on supernatural visitation. I will show how the symptoms generated by trauma (nightmares, sleep paralysis, hallucinations, and migraine-like auras) are interpreted by Cambodians as spiritual assault and visitation, leading to a trauma ontology in which these are key aspects of distress and meaning. This is the lived phenomenology of trauma. As recently reviewed by Cassaniti and Luhrmann, cultural frames can have a profound effect on the experiencing of distress and may lead to ontologies in which “supernatural experiencings” are more salient; they refer to this process as the “kindling of supernatural experiencing.” In this paper I will try to demonstrate how supernatural experiencing occurs among Cambodian refugees from the interaction of the biology of trauma, cultural frames, and looping processes, what we call a “Bio-Cultural Model of the Interaction Between Supernatural Experiencing and PTSD.” It is model that takes into consideration biology, symptom hypervigilance, symptom meaning, symptom amplification, catastrophic cognitions, cultural frames, and looping. In sum, it tries to explain “kindling” in terms of multiple types of processes that result in supernatural assault and visitation being common among traumatized Cambodian refugees.