The Free Fall And Its Relation To The High Feeling

Dr Groff, of Amsterdam, is a psycho-physiologist, who has had experience with both parachute jumping and psychedelics. The following is an excerpt from a talk given at St Martin's School of Art, London, on January 7, 1966. It is interesting to compare a comment made by a member of the Royal Air Force that 'Pilots flying at very high altitudes have reported hallucinations in which they seem to be outside the cabin looking at the shell of themselves on the inside.'

Already at birth the baby enters this world conditioned to respond in a specific way to many given circumstances, aside from its spontaneous movements and reflexes. Among other things, there is a response to what is called a natural force: the phenomenon of Gravity. We can suppose that this process of responding began as far back as the instant of conception. In the process of their development, the meiotic and mitotic functions seem to be influenced by external physical forces similar to that of Gravity, if not that of Gravity itself. Our powers of resolution to date have reached what would have seemed an incredible magnitude to a microscopist of only fifty years ago. Today micro-scopists discuss that level of magnification concerning chromosomes and genes, and even their building blocks, with the calm assurance that so often accompanies the living out of an hypothesis which can still explain most of the facts it is concerned with at the time. From the beginning of what we commonly refer to as recorded time, this power of resolution in our world has been growing in magnitude in the fashion of a geometric progression. In recent times science fiction has often had no longer than a number of years to wait to become science reality. So it is that today man as always, inspired by an ecstasy from within, continues to hypothesize seeming wonders, and waits for the resolution which is perhaps just around the corner. Meanwhile many of his fellow men, again it would seem as always, mock his faith because they have been conditioned into a relative state of mental inertia, and sometimes even try to deny him his right to mental freedom.

The associations brought to mind when confronted with words like: up and down, flying, floating, high, etc., are most often derived from a conditioning related either consciously or unconsciously to the phenomenon of Gravity. It is not unreasonable to expect that when using these words some of the thoughts that are by reflex brought to mind concern injury or destruction. Even in this age, where seeing an aircraft overhead is commonplace, more often than not, even amongst professional pilots, the exhilarating spectacle of flight and floating is dampened by irrepressible, morbid thoughts related to the immediate physical consequences of a sudden alteration in this temporary triumph over Gravity.

Right from the beginning, man has both suffered and profited from the effects of Gravity. Getting a large boulder up an incline was a chore, while letting water run down that same incline provided the energy to drive a wheel. In that part of the sport of Parachuting known as Sky-diving, where the participants exercise the Free Fall, once again man uses the force of Gravity to his advantage. The jumper gets as high as possible to increase the length of his Free Fall, and uses his vertical descent, effected by the pull of Gravity towards the earth, to gain his terminal velocity. This is achieved within one to eight or nine seconds after departing from the aircraft, depending on the speed of the aircraft at that time, and calculated from average conditions including the weight of the jumper, his surface of resistance, the temperature and density of the air, etc. The speed is roughly one hundred and twenty miles per hour. At that moment, there is no sensation of falling, the feeling being comparable to resting on an air mattress floating on a lake. No special equipment is necessary, the human body being perfect for the job as it is, and by altering the arch of the back, and the position of the head and extremities, the speed may be varied between one hundred and twenty and over two hundred miles per hour.

If one eavesdrops around a Drop Zone, he would almost get the impression that there is some sort of mystical-religious cult being practiced. Exclamations concerning the inability to describe the experience in words are commonplace, and to be compared only with conversations during and after psychedelic sessions. Psychedelic methods for expanding consciousness have included sensory deprivation, yoga exercises, disciplined meditation, psychodrama, Gurdjieff techniques of self-awareness, and more recently certain drugs, including LSD, DMT, Mescaline, Psilocybin, and Marihuana. These drugs have opened up psychedelic art techniques of direct (nonsymbolic) energy stimulation. At least one artist I know is now investigating the possibilities of expanding his consciousness through the Free Fall and is communicating his experiences in his paintings. I feel it only fair to point out that in some cases the Free Fall, unlike the Psychedelic drugs mentioned above, does call to mind similarities between itself and the drugs of addiction: opium, its derivatives such as morphine and heroin, and cocaine. Preparing for the jump, and right up to it, there is often an atmosphere of anxious waiting, and a poverty of discussion amongst the participants. The Free Fall has taken a central place in their thoughts, and the greatest part of the day is devoted in some way to this central theme, often to the exclusion of former seemingly important matters. Very often feelings closely identifiable with withdrawal symptoms are reported. During and after the Free Fall, another atmosphere reigns. It is not necessarily typified by the increased measure of conversation, but rather a special feeling or newly won state which seems to embrace and unite all. Considering the fact that with increased altitude the Oxygen tension and proportionate component values of other air gases (drugs) are altered, it might be interesting for some competent governmental enforcement agency, in lands where this practice has gained silent but steady following, to initiate an investigation into the use of this method.

Everyone has most likely at least once clearly experienced a temporary disturbance or change of awareness of the time value. The time may have flown by, where hours seemed like minutes, or perhaps it dragged, where a minute seemed like an hour. In any case, an altered sense of time in some degree is a lowest common denominator for descriptive experiences. The Sky-diver usually uses 2,250 feet as a minimum altitude for terminating his Free Fall. Thus, when exiting the aircraft at 3,250 feet he makes a Free Fall often seconds; from 4,200 feet—fifteen seconds, 6,500 feet—thirty seconds; 12,500 feet—sixty seconds; 15,500 feet—ninety seconds; etc. The only altitude limitations are the maximum ceiling of the aircraft, and in connection with the oxygen content which decreases with altitude as mentioned earlier. An oxygen cylinder and mask are required for altitudes above 18,000 feet. In the Free Fall when he arrives at 2,250 feet, the brain, with its exquisite and intricate computer function, sends its signal, and a hand reaches in to remove the rip-cord from its pocket, and releases one of' the two parachutes that the jumper takes along. The Free Fall being ended, he then floats, suspended by the parachute. The last half mile, during the re-entry phase, which lasts about two minutes, until the gentle contact with the earth below. Recent advances in the design and materials used for parachutes, increasing their maneuverability and rate of descent, have made the former landing jolt connected with the landing, a thing of the past. True enough, for some debutants, the first jump may be accompanied by a certain element of fear, but after a number of jumps, when the jumper is on Free Fall status, and progressively increasing the length of the Free Fall and the awareness of this new state, he becomes freed from unnecessary preoccupations and becomes more capable of experiencing the trip to a fuller extent. At this level of awareness he is also capable of liberating himself from many of his conditioned associations with regards to Gravity. Without introducing any psychological play on words concerning matters described as a 'death wish', and barring intentional suicides, accept for a moment the concept that the jumper has no problem regarding the awareness of the altitude at which he will open his parachute. (By using an altimeter and a stopwatch, he may double-check the brain, if he so desires, and a few even use automatic barometric opening devices, pre-set at the proper opening altitude.) He may then during the period of the Free Fall go beyond his usual concept of the force of Gravity, transcending for that short period of time the conditioning to its game rules. Close your eyes for a moment some time, and have another person let you know when sixty seconds have gone by. During this time try to imagine yourself in the process of making a sixty second Free Fall. This may help you rediscover just how long sixty seconds are, but considering the possibility again of an altered perception of the time sense, it should excite-you to try and imagine what a sixty second Free Fall might seem like to the jumper. In this ecstatic state of complete freedom from earthbound game involvements, is it then not also conceivable that a situation exists in which liberation from still other conditioned models are possible?

Since the beginning of time, some men have sought to go beyond their conditioned states, and through various techniques have enabled themselves to achieve a greater awareness. The suggestion here is that this may again be another method to be added to the ever growing list. Perhaps one which is particularly attractive to yourself. So if the opportunity is available, one day visit a Dropping Zone, and further investigate the possibilities. Granted, there may be some Zen masters in the ranks, and the answers you get may not at once seem to fit into any of the models and expectations you may have brought with you, but still you may find out something of that which you would like to know. For myself, I fall back on a saying from Lao Tse: 'He who knows speaks not, and he who speaks knows not', and I would prefer suggesting the value of self-experience. It's all up to you. Remember, the choice is always your own.

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