Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The White Queen Gambit

I am intrigued by the many ways in which we know things, through our inner senses and through the instinctual wisdom of the body, before we have conscious knowledge of those things. I've learned to play close attention to what used to be called "presentiment", which means having the feelings and sensations an event might trigger before the event takes place. I think of this as the White Queen Gambit. Maybe you remember how in Alice in Wonderland the White Queen squeals before she pricks her finger. When she actually pricks her finger, she doesn't need to scream because she's done that already.

I present a rather dramatic personal example of an experience of “anticipatory symptoms” of this kind - in a doctor's office - in an article at my website you can find in the September 2008 section of the archives. I'll share a less spectacular example from a recent filming session, when it seems I experienced the discomfort and irritation an incident might have triggered before the incident took place:

Losing the Lapel Mike
A young documentary producer and a cameraman arrive to shoot an interview with me that they will use in the trailer for a film they are making on the dreams of exceptional blind kids .It’s a good cause, and I’m happy to donate my time. I’m looking forward to meeting the kids and seeing their dream journals at a later stage of the production.

However, I become extremely uncomfortable as they set up for filming. I’m in my own living room, but I feel very awkward and resistant to the whole process. I don’t want to wear the lapel microphone and protest that surely it’s not necessary since the producer’s voice is not going to be recorded. I'm testy and feel like ripping the lapel mike off, even though I've worn these things hundreds of times. I actually stop the filming soon after we have started, and have little of my usual fluency when we resume.
After we are done, the cameraman discovers that his audio equipment failed. Though I am pressed for time, I become entirely calm and relaxed, while he tries to figure out the problem, muttering to himself and then calling his boss. He eventually establishes that it was the lapel mike that didn’t work. We’ll have to re-record using the distance mike. This is all fine with me, and the new interview flows much better. I didn’t need to be irritated or uncomfortable over the audio failure now because I responded to the incident before it happened.

It seems that the body, or the energy field around it, has intricate antennae that are constantly scanning for changes that will affect it. Most of us know about this from everyday experience. You have a “gut feeling” about something. You feel a sense of dread or elation, a lifting of the heart or a churning in the stomach that has no evident explanation until a subsequent event takes place that would cause such physical reactions. When the event catches up with the anticipatory symptoms, you and your body may be quite calm and detached – because you’ve done the screaming or the hyperventilating already.

Scientific research into this phenomenon, sometimes described as “time-reversed interference”, has been going on since the 1990s, as I reported in my book Dreaming True. Tests conducted at the University of Nevada involved showing subjects a series of photographs on a screen that were calculated to produce vividly contrasting somatic reactions, read by scanning heartbeat, perspiration, and so on. A photo of a peaceful rustic scene might be followed by hard porno or a picture of a gruesome crime scene. It was established than in many cases test subjects had the physical reactions a certain picture would be expected to produce moments before the image came up on the screen.

I suspect we'll all do better if we let our bodies tell us what’s going down. This is a case of “what the bleep we know” that we don’t usually know that we know.


M said...

One night a few years ago, I had a horrible dream where the devil appeared to me, and was trying to enter my home. I have a recurring dream where I am "exorcising" someone, but until this night, I had never seen the devil's face. This time, I saw its face and body. I woke up frozen, unable to move and breathing with difficulty, my heart was racing, When I was finally able to move, I woke my husband, who got me a glass of water and held my hand until I fell asleep again. When I woke up the next morning, I decided to call in sick, something I hardly ever did, and decided to stay home that day. The message I left for my bosses with the receptionist was exactly this: Tell them my batteries died. I was not sick, just so exhausted from that dream. And the date: Sept 11, 2001. I worked three blocks from the WTC. So was the dream so horrible, or did it save me? And who sent it, the devil? or my guardian angel? :)

Robert Moss said...

M: Mass events throw a shadow in front of them, and if this were my dream, from that night, I would think that the shadow of something immensely dark and evil had fallen over me - in a way that may indeed have helped me to avoid something far worse in the vicinity of the WTC on 9/11. It would be wonderful if we were truly able to exorcize the "devils" of war and hatred and fanatical intolerance in our world. But in the meantime, your dream (so distressing and sick-making at the time) may be an example of the dreams that help us "get through" the hardest times. And it may be an exanple of the body's knowing something before the brain does. I know quite a few other stories of people who worked in or around the WTC who called in sick that morning.

Unknown said...

M, I'm just curious, what did the devil look like in your dream? If you don't want to answer that's fine.

Several people I know who have dreamed of the devil have told me what they perceived him or it to look like. I guess, I'm collecting data so to speak.

I'm trying to see if background and religion play a part in what they see or if it is something independent from that...


I think that it is well worth remembering that the popular image of the devil is a creation of the political church in medieval europe.

Janine De Tillio Cammarata said...

How do we as a dreaming society deal with the responsibility of cognitive dreams? If we have that bad feeling for a while, have dreams that have recurring themes, but aren't in time to prevent something horrific, how do we deal with the guilt and possible disappointment in ourselves?

Robert Moss said...

Janine: It's a BIG question to which there is no short or general answer, though I have discusse the issues in some depth in my book, especially in "Dreaming True" and in "The Secret History of Dreaming". I am always going to work with the hypothesis that if we have foreknowledge of possible future events, we may have an opportunity to change our relationship with those events for the better. If we can't avert a natural disaster or a mass tragedy or a death resulting from an incurable illness, we may at least be able to use our information to prepare ourselves and others to deal with those impending events as well as possible. The true seer - let alone the true prophet -carries a burden, but also a gift.

You may want to go back and re-read my little essay in the blog "Don't Freeze the Future."

Here and now, I would rather focus on the theme I raised in "The White Queen Gambit": how the BODY responds to things that have not yet happened as if they had already taken place. All of this involves our basic human survival kit: tools of instinct and intuition that can help us - and others, through us - to get through.

M said...

Naomi, send me an email (look in my profile) and I'll be happy to answer your question.

Joan said...

I read Robert Moss’s article on anticipatory symptoms in September. A few weeks prior I had an experience that I framed in a similar way after reading the article, or saw as possibly being anticipatory symptoms. In addition, there were some beautiful coincidences and support and help from family members who had passed on.

I woke up on a Sunday morning feeling ill with nausea and weakness. At one point I vomited and saw a small amount of blood. As a registered nurse I am aware that blood in emesis can be a sign of a gastrointestinal bleed and should be evaluated. I deferred taking action due to feeling too weak and tired and nauseous to really want to move. When another episode of vomiting with blood occurred, I called the nurse with my health insurance company who advised I go to the ER.

Feeling too weak to actually get up, I still forced myself to dress and prepare to go to the hospital emergency room. In retrospect I am aware that my conscious mind became focused on the activity of preparing for the hospital, ignoring, or remaining unaware, of the reality of what my body was experiencing, the level of weakness, or “wooziness” I was feeling. It was as if the executive function of my brain had one focus and ignored all other data until I heard my younger son say to his brother: “Mom’s on the floor.”

I opened my eyes and saw that I was lying on the floor stomach down and my right arm, in my field of vision, was a bluish color. As the ever ready nurse proceeding with appropriate action, I called out to my son: “call 911 and tell them that I passed out”.

At that time, again, as if my conscious mind was still on its one track focus of getting dressed for the hospital and perceiving my syncope as only an inconsequential obstacle to its goal, I stood up to accomplish the next task on my list - of finding a shirt to wear - and fell on the ground again with syncope within a matter of seconds.

Knowing 911 was coming; I somehow managed to become fully dressed and was lying in bed at their arrival – awake and conscious but still woozy and weak with a feeling of numbness in my arms and legs.

The local hospital ER was on divert with an overflow of patients and I was taken by ambulance to a hospital located in the same neck of the woods that some of my recently deceased father's relatives still lived. The ambulance drove by the house where my father was born as an only child in 1919, a few short months after his own father was killed in World War I in France.

Because of my symptoms, I was admitted to the hospital to a cardiac telemetry floor and arrived to my room Sunday night. The very next day I learned that my father's first cousin, who was a lovely and beautiful person, and who he grew up with like a sister, had died two days before in the room across the hall from mine.

Another first cousin, a brother of the one who died, was currently in the hospital in the room across the hall two doors down and his wife was also in as a patient on the same floor. I saw more of my father's first cousins as they happened to come in visiting the other relatives.

On the evening of my hospital discharge I returned home and the lamp post in the front of my house, which had not worked at all for the past few years, was lit and shining in the dark night. No explanation. When I asked, the babysitter told me that her mom had turned it on and it worked. It remained lit for a few days and then again stopped working. At the time I thought it was my father’s first cousin who had just passed giving me a sign and support as I was working through a very challenging life situation.

Less than 24 hours later, I went to an appointment that had been scheduled prior to my visit to the hospital. I apologize that I must leave the reader in the dark regarding more details on the nature of the meeting but it would be sharing too much private information and I will leave it at that.

I went to the appointment open with a very positive attitude and with my guard down. Blindly innocent or innocently blind - I was in no way prepared for what transpired – an abusive, emotional attack that had, by all appearances, been planned and preorchestrated. It was quite simply an attack, which, non physical, was physically and emotionally devastating to me.

I later wondered if my strange and unexpected trip to the hospital prior to that event and the event itself were related. On an unconscious level I could have been picking up the scenario that was going to occur - or was being orchestrated behind the scenes and had the physical response at that time that sent me to the hospital.

I remained blind to the messages my body was giving me – much like the darkness and blindness of the syncope I experienced. I proceeded to this meeting without caution, despite every warning that my body was giving me, in the same way that I proceeded getting myself dressed for the hospital, consciously unaware and ignoring the clear symptoms that my body was experiencing.

I had the sense as well, though; that my father and his close relatives, that branch of my ancestral family were also aware, behind the scenes, of what was going to occur and rushed in to give me their signs of support, letting me know in advance, as a friend later observed that “the light will be on at the end of the day”.


Robert Moss said...

Dear Joan - Thanks so much for sharing this dark and challenging and most instructive personal experience. Yes, if this had unfolded in my life I would certainly consider possible connections between the physical symptoms and the personal attack that followed. I would also be deeply grateful for the blessed sense of support, protection and guidance from loved ones on the other side.