A Brief Report from the Field

by Michael Rossman

        This is a little tale about power and responsibility and how we fool ourselves. It happened at a healers' retreat off in the woods. There were too many people, it was raining, we huddled indoors in crowded workshops. It was all a bit confused, but things seemed pretty mellow when I went to the workshop on aura reading.

        A hundred of us sat on the floor in the big darkened room while the Leader had volunteers stand silhouetted against the rainy light for us to read their auras. The Leader was young, she projected confidence and calm as she explained gracefully how each person's way and vocabulary of reading was unique and his or her own to discover. I fancy myself a good critic of teaching; I felt she led us pretty well.

        The volunteers stood up, sat down, in turn; she asked what we saw. Most of us saw nothing, but enough saw something that the group's air was lively with hesitant assertion. The Leader was scrupulous about validating people's perceptions (though she herself was not clairvoyant but clairsentient, getting her information through audio cues). Soon the air in the room felt safe and swelled with energy, as more people trusted to offer what they thought they saw, hoping someone would agree.

        With each volunteer the Leader -- in total control of the situation, with everyone in the dumb trance of obedience to authority -- started us out by having us focus between the eyebrows on the person's sixth chakra, then took us to the aura above the head, and then down the body.

        Soon after the second subject stood up, someone said, "He's sitting above his body, watching it." After the Leader confirmed this, other people said they saw him too; then talk shifted to the cross some thought they saw on his chest, and to his many past Christian lives. He stood down. A third volunteer moved to take his place, stripping off her shirt as she stepped up, in a gesture of trust -- "as if," she said later, "I were offering myself up for the sake of science (but to my friends)."

        We focused on her pineal eye; the room hummed with energy. Quickly she was "out of her body" -- there was a concerted gasp, and people cried out how they saw her rise and where her bright energy was hanging. The Leader let our surprise run down, then took us down her fine strong torso to comment on how solidly her aura was grounded, and on certain other virtues evident in her aura.

        Then or later, I came to see the Volunteer as powerful but untrained. Perhaps the Leader did too, for she asked, "Where do you work?" The Volunteer's silhouette was still for a moment longer, arms open; then gave a slight puzzled shrug. The Leader asked again. "Where I am, I guess," the Volunteer said uncertainly. "No, I mean with whom?" "Oh, no one now." The Leader fielded a question or two, the Volunteer stood down, we went through a few more people and the workshop broke up.

        Afterward I saw the Volunteer hovering near the knot of people around the Leader, until finally she dared a question. The Leader didn't understand but answered as best she could, and then asked, "Is that what you wanted?" "No," said the Volunteer, moving away as other people pressed to ply their questions, "but I'll think about it." As she passed me, I asked her whether she was okay, but she didn't respond. Some hours later in another workshop she passed me a note, asking why I had asked her that, apologizing because she had been "a little spaced." I wrote back that it was just a hunch. Then someone else claimed my attention, while the workshop broke up and she disappeared. Finally at dinner I found her and we sat aside, and she told me what had happened.

        She had only been herself again more or less solidly for the last half hour. When the raw impact of our massed energy punched her in her higher ("third") eye, it squirted her like a watermelon seed out of her bodily husk, or at least into some terrifyingly altered state, for five uncontrollable hours. While her shoulders gave their little bewildered shrug, she felt herself snapping rapidly and violently in and out; while her body stood firmly planted, arms akimbo in graceful surrender, she experienced herself hanging somewhere above it screaming as she watched herself roll on the floor in agonized convulsions. She came back to herself while the Leader questioned her and when she approached her afterward, but she had kept snapping out again until just a while ago. It was the first time she'd been "out of body" awake. She apologized for her poor appetite. "Eat something," I said, "it'll make you feel realer."

        A little earlier, a woman had come to her crying, to confess how shaken she had been at witnessing all this; otherwise, I was the only person she'd talked to about the experience, going through it for hours in the crowded rooms. She had sought out the Leader yet again, tried again to tell her what happened. The Leader's response was brusque and defensive. "All she said was that I really needed to go through a lot of therapy before I tried to do any astral traveling again." I listened and responded and rubbed her, tried to comfort her for a time; I'd like to say as well as I could, but not even that, and far from enough.

        For I was somewhat stunned myself, the day's mellow mood completely blasted. I sat there kicking my own ass and everyone else's too, and this is what I thought: Just what was going on in that workshop that I lulled myself into feeling was so groovy? Didn't we serious students of the occult just pick up a big chunk of power and sling it with elemental stupidity at someone's vulnerable spot? Didn't our sister hang somewhere in terror while a hundred sensitive souls were straining to see color in her afterimage? Didn't anyone see her or feel her, except maybe one woman among all these would-be empaths?

        Or was it a subtler fraud? Maybe this group atmosphere -- which under the Leader's able direction seemed so tolerant and supportive, where one could venture any freaky perception -- maybe it wasn't free at all, maybe there was license only for a very narrow band of perceptions out of the ordinary to be spoken aloud, like "I see red" and "there she goes," and no room at all for someone to say something that would disturb the groovy vibes of harmony, like "I feel someone's in trouble."

        Yeah, I talked to her afterward, but the hunch was blind; I had no notion of what she was feeling. Five hours later, when I really looked at her, the mask of trauma was still alive in her features. What did the Leader see? What should she have been able to see (or hear)? What responsibility did she take in directing the group's energies? Was everyone as dumb as I, or did people feel the Volunteer's confusion and pain and just sit there? And why did they sit there?

        I recognized again too late that we had all been in that certain numb trance in which we are schooled all our lives, and which makes us blind and dangerous. Hip enough to distrust Nixon's credentials, we are suckers for the ones we proclaim to ourselves, so far mostly in dim imitation and worship of Expertise; and we will do what the leaders we look for tell us to do almost as surely as men in the army. I don't think the answer is better training and quality control for leaders.


December 1973

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