Review: Application of Impossible Things, A Near Death Experience in Iraq

January 24, 2012

A true tale of survival and courage, sure to empower others who read it.

“Come one, come all! Be amazed and shocked as you peak behind the curtain into the realm of the unexplained!!!” From sideshow barkers to check out aisle tabloids the pitch so often outshines the experience that it’s hard not to become cynical. Not so with Natalie Sudman. Her first hand account of being Out of Body during her dance with death explodes off the page. In the blink of an eye she travels dimensions that shred time and space. Yet she writes with such uncommon wit, sophisticated insight, and stunning attention to detail that it will turn your view of reality inside out. This truly is a front row seat in the theater of “impossible things.” Do NOT miss it!

Paul Rademacher

Executive Director of The Monroe Institute and author of A Spiritual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe: Travel Tips for the Spiritually Perplexed.

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Osama Bin Laden’s Death, & Our Opportunity

May 2, 2011

I’m saddened by the reaction of some of my American friends to Osama bin Laden’s death. Boasting and strutting Americans are, in my opinion, Americans at their most mortifying.

The effort to kill bin Laden lasted ten years, underlay two overt wars and countless covert ones, cost billions and billions and billions of dollars, spawned a creepily polarized political spin morass that fed a culture of fear, and cost a lot of soldier’s and civilian’s lives. All this, ostensibly to kill one man.

I wouldn’t call that something to strut about.

And this will not end the terrorist acts that cause Americans to puff up their chests and say, “Not here. Not inAmerica.” Osama bin Laden is not the only extreme fundamentalist, the only terrorist out there. Many people believe that violence is the only way to get what they want, to create what they desire, to force what they think is right. Others will take bin Laden’s place.

We still have not grown up. Our general comic-book mentality of one evil man destroying the world is useless and dysfunctional. We still have not matured enough to reflect on and respect the complexities of a world of vast cultural and political differences. We have not matured enough to understand that freedom means the freedom to choose something other than what Americans value and create. We have not matured enough to realize that our self-interested manipulations and exploitations of other countries politics and economies breed anger, frustration, and resentment in the countries and communities that we manipulate. We still have not matured enough to look at ourselves honestly, and to contemplate the fact that the ideals that we espouse are not often enough carried through in our actions.

The war inAfghanistanis not over. The death of bin Laden does not end the war or heal that country of its violence and tribalism.

The death of bin Laden does not end terrorism, Arab nationalism, or Muslim extremism. It does not spell the end of Al Qaeda. The Americans have killed one man, and think they have brought an end both a powerful organizer and a powerful symbol. But in this death, they have created a martyr to his followers, a potentially more powerful symbol that they may carry for decades, even centuries.

Memories of perceived wrongs are long and deep.America’s youth and cultural myths carry only one watered-down example of this: the Civil War. The South Will Rise Again. The Confederate flag. In the Middle East cultures (as well as other cultures – Albanians come to mind, Northern Ireland as well), perceived wrongs are carried for centuries, talked about as if they occurred yesterday, and acted upon with a passion and violence that belies the passing of time. Time does not necessarily heal. It can fester.

 As a wounded war vet, more than once I’ve been asked directly if I’m not overjoyed at the death of Osama bin Laden.

I am not.

I have multiple perspectives from which I view bin Laden’s death, because I walk the world feeling as if I am a bridge precariously touching two shores: the reality of the world that we have taught ourselves is real, and the non-physical or spiritual reality that I have experienced and know is as real as this physical world.

From the physical world reality, I feel neutrally curious about bin Laden’s death. A social disruption has been eliminated, and I wonder what waves and eddies that removal will cause. Be assured that there will be waves and eddies, and that many of them will come as a surprise to most of us.

From the perspective of the bridge, I am saddened that bin Laden believed that the only way to get what he thought he wanted or needed was to impose violence and disruption on others. I am saddened that his spiritual energies were imbalanced, and by the imbalances he spawned in others, including influencing others to use violence and disruption and including exacerbating the imbalance in Americans caused by giving in to feelings of fear, anger, and desires for retribution. I am disappointed that we seem unable to heal people like bin Laden and his followers – better yet, to heal ourselves as individuals and as a nation and as a world community, thereby making people like Osama bin Laden powerless.

From the perspective of spirit, I feel detached yet interested. My curiosity is aroused by the intense passions, difficult lessons, and strange creative paths we each choose for our lives. Watching the energy matrices of the physical and non-physical planes shift with the death of Osama bin Laden, I choose to add my energy and attention to the most beautiful of the possibilities being explored: the most peaceful, the most balanced, the most integrating, the most forgiving.

I believe that it’s worth taking the time to ponder on the positive energies and lessons available in the life of Osama bin Laden and in the ripples that he created across the earth. It’s possible that each individual would find their own lives reflected in some aspect of his extremism, his anger, his frustration, his self-righteousness, and his choices of action in responding to those beliefs and passions. If he indeed chose that path as a spirit, he served us all by offering an extreme example of the sad power of fear and frustration, thereby also offering so many of us an opportunity to rise above it.

“I am more than my physical body. Because I am more than physical matter, I can perceive that which is greater than physical reality. Therefore, I deeply desire to expand, to experience, to control, to use, such greater energy and energy systems as maybe beneficial to me and to those who follow me. Also, I deeply desire the help and cooperation, the assistance and understanding, of those whose wisdom, knowledge, and experience are equal to or greater than my own. I ask for their guidance and assistance, and their protection from any influence or any source that might provide me with less than my stated desires.”  (The Monroe Institute – www.monroeinstitute.org)

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Progress Not Perfection

May 1, 2011

Every day I feel like I haven’t accomplished much, yet I’m always busy. I know that this is a mental-habit perception rather than reality. In the five months since I bought this house, I’ve completed an enormous amount of work …

Just to list the major accomplishments: I’ve moved all my belongings into the house almost single-handedly (two objects required assistance), painted the interior (1500 sq ft, 10ft ceilings), built shelves on every wall of the garage (5 units), refinished three bookshelves and one coffee table, installed a sink in the garage, built two worktables for the garage, devised and built a way to hang my kayak, sealed all outdoor wood timbers, assembled five industrial shelf units, refinished a floor, dug 20 holes for trees and a 5 x 10 x 1ft deep foundation for rainwater storage tanks, set up and fired a new kiln.

As soon as I finish a project, it is dismissed from my perception. Wouldn’t it be better to give attention to the finished project, taking the time to admire it and myself for the accomplishment? Instead I focus on the long list still to be done: build earthbag terrace walls, put rip-rap on the driveway extension, gravel the driveway, plant the 20 trees and as many bushes, install the rainwater collection tanks, make and fire clay half-pipes to direct water from one tree to the next … the list is long.

Progress not perfection.

The journey matters.

I’m trying to re-teach myself that generosity. 

In Iraq I moved full-speed sixteen or eighteen hours a day. Rolling around in my brain were between twenty and sixty projects, each with their uniquely bizarre problems to be solved yesterday. Being untrained in the tasks, I had to work twice as hard as everyone else just to be half as good at the job.

Then I got blown up, and as soon as I was conscious again the same sort of dedication and concentration was required in recovery. I was always doing something: stretching this, moving that, controlling pain, tracking government paperwork (try that when you’re looped out of Perc – yeesh), pushing my body, training my mind for new expectations and adaptions.

Habits have always been hard for me to break, and this one – a tornado brain – is proving tenacious. The mental chatter is not constant, but it constantly returns. Being alert in a war zone pays. Whether at work in an office (alert for incoming), riding the roads (alert for IEDs, SAF, etc), static at a site (alert for SAF, RPGs, coordinated attacks, etc), the background is a constant if sliding scale of adrenaline. Add handling a near-panic level learning curve and high speed problem-solving in a strange and violent land, … is it any wonder that breaking these habits takes time?

Before going to Iraq I’d traveled extensively, living for months in different countries and in various intense, microcosmic, small-group situations. Culture shock had become familiar to me. When I returned from Iraq that experience paid off, as I was more patient with myself during re-entry than many friends were with themselves.  I knew that many of the symptoms would gradually fade without effort.

War zones, though, produce unique intensities of persistent culture shock and thought patterns.I know other vets who feel the same way. Habits learned in a war zone are deeply seated. Reinforcement tends to be strong when you immerse yourself in a world for a year and half, and extreme behavior and thought patterns are seated profoundly in the body’s nerve system. It is said we learn best if more than one sense is engaged, the spoken word accompanied by pictures, for instance. A war zone teaches through engaging every sense, and with extremes (explosions, blood & guts, 130F heat, guns, bad food, constant problem solving). By a person’s senses entirely, actions and thoughts and emotions become tuned to a high level and rooted in the very cells of the body.

My most useful tool in quieting the hyper-aware chatter of the mind, slowing time in order to notice and congratulate myself on accomplishments, and letting go of the goal-oriented ticking off of tasks (lists – the organizational nerve system of my life!) has been the use of meditation. In particular, I find that the Monroe Institute cd’s (www.monroeinstitute.org) are especially useful.

Hemi-synch, the use of binaural beats to put a person into deep meditative states, often short-circuits the hyperactivity of my mind, quieting the chatter. The instant release of dropping into deep meditative states is making it easier and easier to remember during the rest of the day to take one moment at a time, and helps me to find the beauty and ease available in just being alive in this strange world.

Today I ordered sandbags to build the earthbag terrace walls. A contractor is working up an estimate for the rip-rap and driveway gravel (I’ve decided I don’t have to do it all myself). I’ve got culvert and gravel on the way for the rainwater collection tanks, and tomorrow I’ll get the pvc pipe that I’ll need for their plumbing. Saturday a friend will join me for a tree shopping spree.

There is still so much work to do.

It’s not work that needs to be done right now though. Right now I’m going to go sit on the back patio and watch the daylight fade and the stars appear, quieting my mind.

Progress, not perfection.

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I Am My Own Science Experiment

December 18, 2010

Today the whole world smells to me  like my small world at Walter Reed Army Medical Center did in December 2007.

Since being blown up, my sense of smell has been quirky. For months after I was released from the hospital, all raw meat smelled rotten, salmon smelled like polluted earth; I was unable to tell if milk had gone off; the clean, fresh scent of lemon made me nauseous. I couldn’t smell smoke; some of the finest perfumes smelled like cheap drugstore scents; and coffee smelled like burned toast.  The day that I was able to discern the delicious scent of coffee as coffee is supposed to smell was one landmark day in my recovery!

Now my sense of smell has what appear to be permanent gaps, and about once a month or so I’ll have a few days of persistent strangeness. Many perfumes and – oddly and perhaps luckily – sewage type odors almost never register as accurate. I’ve become accustomed to that. It’s the days of unexpected scents that stand out. One day everything will smell like raw meat. Yesterday scented soaps smelled like alcohol, and the day before that the desert smelled like talcum powder. Today, as I’ve said, everything smelled like Walter Reed, a distinctive lightly sweet, slightly waxy, barely medicinal odor that wouldn’t be unpleasant if it weren’t associated with the hospital.

In the excellent book The Emporer of Scent, Chandler Burr describes Luca Turin’s scientific investigations of the sense of smell. Turin is convinced that we discern scents through the vibration of molecules, the molecules seating themselves in sensors in the nasal system. In contrast, the leading scientific theory states that we perceive odors by sensors reading the shape of molecules, so in the course of his investigations and conclusions, Luca Turin ran head first into the entrenched scientists of shape theory. When scientists have invested many years in a particular theory, they don’t necessarily follow the basic precepts of science by keep their minds open to deviations from that norm and alternative explanations for gaps in the original theory. Luca Turin’s theory explains the gaps in shape theory, and overall he makes a convincing argument for vibration. Although I will remain willing to be convinced otherwise, since I’ve read only one popular-science book about the subject, I am currently a proponent of Turin’s vibration theory.

One of the stories Chandler Burr recounts in the book describes a woman in Scotland who suddenly perceived everything as smelling like feces. After consulting with many experts, her physician heard about and contacted Luca Turin, hoping he could help this woman. Being convinced that smell is based on the body reading the vibration of molecules, he suspected that this woman’s body was misreading the vibrations, which he postulated might be alleviated by medicines for epilepsy. I wish I remembered the details of why he came to that conclusion, but I don’t, probably because it made sense to me intuitively.

I think about this when my own sense of smell goes haywire. I had a massive concussion, a fractured skull, shrapnel in my frontal sinus – that’s still there – and that frontal sinus was ultimately isolated by being plugged. Perhaps there are sensors in that frontal sinus that no longer allow me to smell certain odors at all. Maybe my brain had enough jarring that some connections were permanently altered. Or perhaps my brain sustained some scarring that affects the way information is transmitted or received.

It’s also possible that environment affects my body’s energy vibration in such a way as to disrupt the scent sensors. I’ve noticed that when I eat sugar my sense of smell will be “off” the next day. If I eat more sugar the next day, the deviations are exacerbated. If I eat vegetables and simple meats, and exercise regularly, my sense of smell gets more acute and accurate.

Physics has found that what appears to be solid is not really solid. A chair is just an organization of molecules, which are in turn smaller particles with spaces between, which are in turn smaller particles with spaces between … and on and on to smaller and smaller and smaller particles, down to perhaps no particles at all – just energy. Vibration.

It makes sense to me, in these contexts, that what I put into my body or do with my body or surround my body with will affect all my senses. All the “particles” that make up my body are my own unique energy, and create or emanate my own unique energy. That energy interacts with all that it encounters.

So on days that my sense of smell is screwy, I look at what’s affecting my energy: food, exercise, stress, chemicals, drugs, sleep habits …

I am my own science experiment.

Peculiar Driving Habits in Different US States, Cities, or Regions

November 19, 2010

A non-scientific observational listing of the quirks considered normal by residents of particular states and regions that are not, frankly, considered normal by any normal person, and including cautionary notes for the wary traveler through said regions.

 Washington DC region:

1.) *While normally and officially yellow traffic lights are considered a caution to slow down, in the DC region they are considered a warning that if you don’t step on the gas hard, you’re going to miss this light and sit for up to 4 minutes waiting for the next green light.

Cautionary note: When your traffic light turns green, pause to look both ways before proceeding into the intersection or you’re liable to get wiped out by that last car trying to sneak through on the yellow (by now red) light.

* This seems to apply to most cities in the northeast

2.) Except in DC itself, where it is illegal, cell phone use (talking or texting) while driving a vehicle is common. A rigorous scientific study conducted by my boyfriend and me (he is a real scientist, with a PhD, if that matters) concluded that 50-75% of all drivers on the road at any given time are talking (hand held) or texting on their cell phone. Of the remaining 50-25%, half of those are fixing their hair or makeup, reading the paper, or trying to deal with a recalcitrant child in the back seat. The remaining drivers are foreigners, the majority being Hispanic (aggressive and apparently lacking knowledge of a use of signals) or Asian (slow and tentative to the point of extreme aggravation to all drivers in their immediate vicinity). 

Cautionary note: Granted, more than half of all time spent in a vehicle in the Washington DC Metro Area is spent sitting in traffic at stoplights. Regardless, that still leaves half of any journey open to being killed by cell phone-wielding drivers, multi-taskers, and foreigners. When driving in the DC Metro Area, do not assume that the drivers around you are conscious. Drive defensively at all times.

Florida

Changing lanes in heavy traffic? Trying to make a left hand turn out of a side road onto a busy street? Attempting to get out of the gas station near a crowded intersection? No problem. Whether due to innate Southern graciousness or the presence of a lot of old people who were raised in a different world, Florida drivers are polite to those around them.

Cautionary note: If you’re stuck in a long line of traffic, expect those ahead of you to let in every car that comes out of a side road in front of you, exacerbating your already snail-like progress.

Mississippi & Louisiana

A following distance of ten feet is considered adequate for all speeds up to and including travel on highways and freeways. In one ten minute drive across town in Hattiesburg, I witnessed five rear-end collisions. I’m not sure cars down there are even equipped with turn signals.

Cautionary note: If you have to slow down for a turn, signal your turn and slow down well ahead of time to allow the idiot on your bumper to react. When at a stoplight, watch what’s coming in behind you because I’ve seen an inattentive tailgater plow right into the car in front of them when a light turned red. Although it’s unlikely that any of the drivers around you will signal their intentions, go ahead and signal yours – they’ll probably be able to figure out what they mean.

Ohio

On the generally crowded highways of Ohio, drivers are erratic and aggressive. Signals are sometimes used, sometimes not. Drivers change lanes and dart toward exit ramps as if on a sudden and unexpected whim. Cutting in front of another car with less than three feet of clearance between the front and rear bumpers is apparently acceptable.

Cautionary note: Drive defensively at all times – these people are erratic and dangerous.

Chicago

Understand that speed limits are a vague suggestion.

Cautionary note: Drive with the speed of traffic, even though it’s up to 30 mph over the speed limit. Try to avoid driving to or through Chicago if you own a slow, clunker car or have slow, clunker instinctive reaction times.

Upper Midwest *

Generally polite, practical and able, Midwesterners are perhaps at their most inept when merging onto a freeway. Not all have grasped the concept of speeding up to seamlessly merge with the flow of the freeway traffic.

Cautionary note: As you head down the entrance ramp, don’t assume that the car in front of you won’t come to a dead stop at the point where the entrance ramp meets the freeway. Plan accordingly.

*more generally true outside metro areas; includes Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, rural Illinois, and Indiana

Minneapolis

Traffic lights are NOT strung up across the roads. Instead, they are located on posts on the street corners. Blizzards would destroy lights hung on cables across intersections.

Cautionary note: Watch for traffic lights to be located atop on posts on street corners.

South Dakota

If it’s a two-lane street and cars are only traveling in the left lane of it, a right hand turn onto it from a side street is de rigueur.

Cautionary note: If you’re one of the cars traveling in the left lane and suddenly see a car emerging from a side street, stay alert but try not to panic. If the right lane is clear, that’s what they’re aiming for – and they’ve had a lot of practice so they’re pretty good at it keeping their nose out of your lane.

Denver

Many of the older freeway entrance and exit ramps are very, very short.

Cautionary note: Natives really hit the gas on the ramps in order to work up a decent amount of speed to merge with traffic. Don’t expect those on the freeway to shift their trajectory too much to accommodate you – adjust your own speed if possible. If you have to crawl out into fast traffic to get off the ramp and avoid the inevitable next exit that’s only about 100ft away, go for it. Natives seem to have quick reactions and hey, they’ve had to do the same thing themselves on the same damn ramp. 

 California

Every California driver that I know describes him/herself as a really good driver, and brags (yes, I chose that word specifically) that California drivers are the best drivers in the world. There’s your first clue to the reality: California drivers are arrogant. They are generally assertive and impatient with any form of dilly-dallying, legitimate or not. They also consider a ten foot following distance normal at any speed. On the plus side, they are more attentive than Mississippians and use cell phones less than East Coasters, so you’re unlikely to get rear-ended unless you fail to signal your intentions.

Cautionary note:  Know where you’re going before you start your journey, or as you peer at the street signs or slow to figure out which exit you need, you’ll have some self-important Californian right up your butt – as if s/he can push you faster by forcing that small airspace between your bumpers to act as a plow. Use your signals, and use them well ahead of time to avoid a heart-stopping near-miss rear end collision. Pay attention: it’s a fast-paced world but you’ll usually get warning time to react if you watch for other drivers’ signals.

Arizona & New Mexico

See California above, though without the arrogant (and erroneous) assumption that they’re the best drivers in the world.

Arizona

1. ) Some genius (honestly) has designed most left turn traffic arrow lights to come AFTER the through-traffic green lights. As through traffic thins, some drivers waiting for a left turn can execute, and the rest will clear on the green arrow.

Cautionary note: While waiting to make a left turn, it’s acceptable to creep out into the intersection because you’re not going to get stuck out there: the green turn arrow is coming up. Check the intersection signs – if the green turn light does NOT follow the green through traffic light, the signs will tell you that.

2.) In Tucson and Phoenix, be aware that U-turns are happening all over the place.

Cautionary note: Before you make that right turn on red, check that no one is U-turning into your lanes.

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