Years ago, I felt the call to go west. When I did, I spent a lot of time in Joshua Tree. It was the place that my inner fire ignited into a much bigger version of what had been. Before Joshua Tree, I had whiffs of a creative spark. During that time in Joshua Tree, I had more intuitive knowing of my path of service being the way that I use language and writing to transform my inner experience so I can be aligned with my soul and live in inner peace, and help others embark on such a journey of transformation for themselves. But I couldn’t rush the process. Back then, I wasn’t strong enough mentally or emotionally to bring that vision fully to life. This trip was different.
Another call came right before the fall equinox in September 2023: Go west. This time I knew there would be another fanning of flames, although I didn’t know what it would look like.
It’s a feeling inside that is more like a soft pull in a certain direction versus an alarm bell ringing for a fire, although a fire inside had been lit. It had been years since I visited Joshua Tree–years marred by the pandemic, busy-ness, and sickness. Those years were also full: learning, growing, shedding, and stoking the inner fire that had re-ignited in the high desert. The inner call felt like a celebratory march to the place that was burned into my heart.
I left Alabama and navigated west along route 20, then route 10. I hugged the Mexican border and watched fields of oil rigs in the Permian Basin in Texas turn into swaths of solitary Sonoran desert dotted with saguaro cactus. I drove through White Sands, New Mexico, marveled at the dunes of gypsum, and turned north. My destination that night was a small campground I was familiar with just south of Roswell, New Mexico.
One of the reasons that I enjoy road trips is the long, solitary days of driving. I am in my head as much as I am in my heart. The manic motion of the passing landscape coupled with the vacuum-like quality of being sealed inside my truck (windows up, air conditioning on) feels like a sensory deprivation tank of a very constructed nature. As I drove, I was able to go into my mental reel of memories of the times that I felt disempowered: each time a lover had put me into a box of what I was worth as a reflection of his emotional availability; each time I was bullied by a family member for pursuing intellectual adventures in lieu of their family-oriented small-town life, a mental lack of availability to imagine anyone could do anything different than what they were doing. Reviewing the mental reel is part of my process of opening up inner space. I feel obliged to witness the memories that still have a charge to them and therefore power over me. Each time it gets a little bit easier to let go. This time, after years of doing this, I felt free. An overwhelming sense of love emerged from my being. The love was for myself and it came with pride that I had never let those people hold me back.
I arrived at Bottomless Lake State Park in New Mexico (just south of Roswell) in the dark. I couldn’t get my bearings because there was absolutely no light around me. I knew I was driving near the campground, so I simply pulled over to a gravel area. I didn’t know if I was on a site. My dog joined me as I slid into the back seat of my pickup truck. There was enough room for us to lay out and comfortably sleep. I kept the windows shut because the mosquitos were out in droves. Effectively, we were still in a vacuum.
Despite being tired from a day of driving and thinking, I found that I couldn’t sleep. As I lay in the dark of the truck cab, I took stock of what was happening: the moonlight outside illuminated everything with a silver glow, but it was disorienting because everything looked silver. The shadows ate the objects outside. The temperature was comfortable and I laid on my blanket for extra cushioning. I had a sensation of motion—something that often lingers with me after long days on the road—but I noticed it wasn’t only in my feet and legs. I felt a racy sensation through my arms and chest, too. I noticed my heart was beating faster than normal.
I kept turning over.
My dog got up from the bench seat and jumped back onto the center console. She turned to face me and I noticed, in the silver moonlight, that her ears were flicking up and down. She watched me with her curious and inquisitive eyes.
That’s how I knew something was happening.
My dog, Coco, is a trained service dog. Years ago, at the beginning of my recovery from bipolar disorder, she was reactive to fluctuations in mood and perceptual anomalies before I had any idea of the onset. When a hallucination was about to start, or when a manic swing was going to erupt, Coco would forcefully act upon me so that I would stop what I was doing and sit down to ground. If I was driving, she would jump into my lap, press her paws into my face, and wedge her butt on the steering wheel so it wouldn’t turn.
But this wasn’t one of those times.
Because she wasn’t reacting, I could safely assume this was not a manifestation of my disorder—it was something else.
My heart started to race faster as my eyes rolled back into my head, which felt like something had cracked across the top of it. I heard a high-pitched whistle. I breathed into the intense “download.”
Downloads are a term I’ve heard used by people who work with high vibrational energy and entities. Some folx who channel light language, an innocuous script and potent healing energy from the collective mind, say this is part of the 5D (dimensional) shift. If someone is activated energetically, they might receive downloads that affect their energetic field. In more mundane terms, this is the process of moving stuck energy–thoughts, emotions, memories that inhibit a clear connection to the inner self so that the higher vibrational energy can be experienced. The inner peace and soul alignment is on the other side of moving that stuck energy and being with the higher vibrational energy.
This was not the first time a download has happened for me, but with Coco as my witness, it was the first time I was clearly able to distinguish the spiritual experience and not the psychological disorder one. I remember being grateful that no one was around so that I could writhe and make noise in peace. I wondered how I would explain this to any passerby. Later, when I met with my spiritual teacher and therapist, I told her about this. I cringed. I said that it really felt different than when I wasn’t well, and because she had treated me through my recovery, she knew exactly what I met. She told me to think of it as a gift and a blessing, evidence of all the psychological growth I had undergone.
I eventually made it to Joshua Tree, California. After visiting some friends and hitting up my favorite places, I decided it was time to leave. My friend Zara was surprised—I had lived with her while in Joshua Tree all those years ago. Her friendship was solidified over creative bonds and artistic explorations. But I knew, intuitively, that I had achieved mission-complete and there was no need for me to linger. Zara helped me celebrate the fire in Joshua Tree—she went with me to have a lightning bolt on my hand, representing the dynamic energy that zapped me and cracked me open while living in Joshua Tree. Zara was one of the first people who I felt truly saw me creatively, saw my vision and understood how I wove different threads together to have new fabrics of ideas. So it was much to my surprise that I left Joshua Tree just as soon as I had arrived.
“I’ve outgrown Joshua Tree,” I told her. It was what my inner fire told me then—no other way around it. It’s what my intuition said. And I knew, too, it’s what my download confirmed. All of this was surreal. One might say that these beliefs are characteristic of a person who is not mentally well. Energetic downloads and part-alien civilizations are not terms associated with a Western worldview—or the belief in such things, I should say. With my dubious mental health history, I might double down on defending myself. It is hard to be seen as someone who has these beliefs AND the mental health history that I do. There are two mainstream narratives that I come into direct conflict with there: a bold, independent woman doesn’t need to be tamed, and a woman with bipolar disorder will forever remain an unpredictable, moody, manic pixie girl. I live outside these narratives, but I am constantly encountering people who expect those exact circumstances in me. The world hasn’t had its major breakthrough and transformation, even though I did. The fire of inner transformation is what enabled me to revise the story and have breakthroughs so that I could choose how I engage with (or disengage from) the mainstream narrative.
A few years prior, when I actually did live in Joshua Tree and frequented the library in neighboring 29 Palms, I re-read a hardcopy essay on my struggle to convey exceptional experiences—that is, times when I have had sensory impressions that came from somewhere beyond the purely material world. I was hung up on conveying what it was that I was trying to say. What I was ascribing to “I” was coming across as a tunnel that I had been working on for a while. What I was trying to say wasn’t coming through. I had to open the conversation up—ask what the words wanted from me.
The essay was about the journey inside to inner space—extolling the virtues of personal evolution. It’s part of the process of understanding “higher purpose.” But my essay was falling flat. Phrases like “finding myself,” “knowing myself,” “higher purpose” felt deflated. They lacked force. A reader could get a sense of what I was referring to by my descriptive language, but I couldn’t convey the electricity in my experiences, which is what gave me the enthusiasm to write about them. Most importantly, I couldn’t activate the experiences for the reader,which was what I was trying to do. The space between the thoughts and me, the observer of them, was still too tight.
I started to play with the medium, the language, by going in and out through words that shifted my awareness. I watched for the shape of the letters on the page, then I tried focusing and unfocusing my vision, moving from words to shapes, words strung together, and then back. This became dharana—meditation—on the words. I was singularly focused on them. Eventually my field of vision started to blur. My peripheral vision blurred, too, and the library bookshelves turned into cases full of neon beams of light, and the books on them became crystals.
The idea of the interconnectedness of all of the ideas and writers, and me to them, became apparent as I witnessed the network of lights across the books. The image registered in my mind as a felt sense registers in the body. And then I had a fleeting thought that I was a medium, a part of this vast network who, through the act of writing, pulled ether into material, and with that, created our world because information is our world. We are not the information, we are not the source of the information, and yet we are not separate from it. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction in the core of my being then, and the vision vanished. The meditation was broken.
Unbeknownst to me then, I had activated a trip of sorts, detaching from myself and the world as it is perceived by my mind to a place of pure awareness. This is analogous to cultivating the Witness, the mode neutral being of awareness, separate from the self and yet still connected to the ethereal as a medium for the Self. In doing so, I disidentified from the self as a thing that was perceived, the world through my body and mind identities. It is the practice of opening the I-Self channel.
When I left the library, touched by the experience, I was unsettled by it and I have been unsettled by it ever since.
I was able to gain some clarity about what I experienced by learning how to interpret the experience through the lens of psychosynthesis. I was immediately confronted with questions for reflection: why did I need to convey my experience in a most authentic way? How was I able to detach consciousness from my body and move into pure awareness? Where did “I” go? And how does all of this contribute to a movement toward wholeness on part of my being?
After I left Joshua Tree, I continued my exploration of the Mojave Desert and then went east into Arizona. Dry, sandy terrain turned into grasses and wildflowers and pine forests that crept up the sides of mountains. I decided to drive up Mt Hualapai, an unimproved forest road that was rutted out in places. “Chains or four by fours only.” It was the night before the full moon in Aries, and perhaps this motivated my fiery ambition. I sought the quiet of such a remote camping spot so I could sit and hear my intuition more clearly. That is, I knew my download in New Mexico was important but I didn’t know why. No big breakthroughs came, no aha! Moments, but I sat in the peace and stillness of wild forest. I rose with the sun and enjoyed the dawn hours of tranquility. I felt at one with the nature around me, and I acknowledged that that was all I needed. As I drove down the mountain a few hours later, I encountered a baby elk. I had the overwhelming intuition that it was a gift from the woods, the encounter. I looked up indigenous symbolism at a truck stop for morning coffee. I read on an internet encyclopedia that elk symbolize sovereignty and inner power.
Later that week, I happened to be attending the Parapsychological Association’s monthly meeting. One of the table chairs, Everton de Oliveira Maraldi, a scholar of religion and parapsychology, was holding a discussion on exceptional experiences. An exceptional experience is anything that falls under the umbrella category as out of the ordinary framework of Western psychology—near-death experiences, hearing voices, telepathy, alien encounters, etc. I believe that exceptional experiences are a natural and healthy part of psycho-spiritual development. They occur not out of a diseased or disordered brain but from our connection to consciousness outside of our brain.
I find that in the scientific community, there is an earnest effort to somehow bridge the gap between Eastern or indigenous wisdom and Western, scientific study. I had this in the back of my mind as I mulled over the elk sighting, the download, the impulse to go west and honor my inner flame. These journeys usually have a rich personal significance for me, meaning made out of synchronous events and fortuitous encounters on the road. I’ve always held a position more aligned with Eastern and indigenous wisdom, that I travel because I am in tune with the world and what I need to do to find my most empowered perspective. It is no coincidence that things have happened on my road trips as they do. But what is the way to bridge the gap and provide a scientific framework for understanding these occurrences? And how can I anchor my deep-seated belief in the consciousness of the cosmos working through me (a spiritual point of view) while I live out the human experience (which comes with narratives and a whole lot of psychological ick)?
This is why I have been involved in the parapsychology community. I want to be part of that bridge. Likewise, Everton is creating a bridge, too. He takes a cultural, religious approach when dissecting an exceptional experience, and when that, the bridge leads to more normalization and more discussion of exceptional experience and inner space. The point of dissecting them is to know something about our human experience in general, how these experiences appear across cultures, and specifically, where there is room to allow more self determination in the case of the experiencer—there’s a difference between a researcher or an outside party (like Everton) observing an exceptional experience and an experiencer-reported event (like me describing my download). Moreover, like this trip to Joshua Tree, I am reminded that it’s the journey and not the destination. Keep on trucking.
The biggest challenge here is to know how and when to treat the exceptional experience as a thing unto itself (revealing some measure of psychosocial growth or numinous event) or as a symptom of a disease.
Regardless, it is very important to document such happenings so that there is a more clear map of inner space. (I can help you with writing these things out. Reach out to start a conversation.)
I believe this is the fire that ignited in me in Joshua Tree. It was during the years that I was estranged from my beloved town in the high desert that I did a lot of work on myself, my socio-cultural self, the one beyond the “bipolar disorder girl.” I’ve long outgrown that personality in favor of rigid self care, an understanding of the neurodivergence of bipolar disorder, and a healthy respect for mainstream Western psychology. It’s dogmatic and materialistic and looks at the mind like a machine sometimes, but this is a good balance for the depth psychology I am trained in (psychosynthesis) that perceives each individual as a spiritual being having a human experience. The emphasis is on the spiritual and not the materialistic.
It is no longer hard for me to be seen because of all of the psychological and spiritual work that I have done on myself. In fact, I welcome the act of being seen because I can talk about exceptional things and hold the space for others to relay theirs. I believe this is part of my bridge-building service to the world. I just had to go west to let the energies roll through me.
Hi there! Thanks for reading. I’m a writer, editor, and transpersonal guide who works with GenXers and their journies of psycho-spiritual transformation.
All of this, too–the process of self exploration and the way culture affects us–is my reason for living. I write in nonfiction and creative nonfiction forms on these topics. I invite you to read my blog, The Conversation.
And, I deal with the deep stuff–what we do when we recall past life experiences; how we engage the archetypal resonance of embodied experience; when to call the “weird stuff” you’re experiencing a spiritual awakening and when to call a mental healthcare practitioner.
I’ve got so much to say. This is my soul’s work.
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BTW: I love tattoos and coffee.
My writing explores embodied transpersonal psychology. That is, seeing the world and the mind as multidimensional is my point of view.
- Check out Public Parapsychology. Learn more about what psi is and why psi belongs to everyone. Join other seekers and citizen scientists who are exploring parapsychological phenomena for the benefit of understanding the spiritual nature of the material world.
- Also consider joining The Parapsychological Association. Support an organization of professional scientists and independent researchers who are pushing the boundaries of our current understanding of the mind. Programming and publications include excellent resources for mental healthcare practitioners and healers who support individuals with transpersonal experiences.