Austin Backyard Becomes a Haven for UFO Searchers
By Qiling Wang
On a breezy fall evening in Southwest Austin, a group gathered around a stone circle in a backyard as dusk fell.
Yvonne Self, a spiritual counselor who founded Austin Skywatchers in 2014, welcomed new members as they prepared to search the sky for UFOs.
The organization brings together people who say they have interacted with beings from outer space. According to the group’s MeetUp profile page, over the past few years, it has attracted more than 200 “first-contact ambassadors” to facilitate interaction with extraterrestrial civilizations.
The members meet fortnightly to share their UFO experiences and to practice meditation while they observe the night sky.
The idea that we may not be alone in the universe, and a fascination with outer space, dates back centuries. The belief in UFOs persists, despite the absence of scientific evidence.
“It’s not impossible that you could have visitors from outer space to the Earth. But if you are going to claim that’s true, you should present some good evidence,” said Peter Shostak, senior astronomer for the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, which conducts exploratory research into the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, among other astronomy topics. “It’s like ghosts. People report ghosts, and I am sure that you can find tens of thousands of reported cases every year.”
His organization — the acronym stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — is among the professional scientific groups that look for evidence that other parts of the universe may have had conditions that could support life, such as water. Several large radio telescopes, including one in Puerto Rico associated with the National Science Foundation, search for signals that could indicate intelligent life in the great beyond.
Self and other UFO enthusiasts say they have the evidence they need, and that others would believe them if they only saw the research, which they think the government suppresses.
“All of you are here because even though you may not be aware of it at the moment, you are very likely interacting with them (aliens) now and assisting them as well to establish the first contact,” Self told the group in October.
Self said she has been interacting with what she calls “off-world beings” since she was a toddler, and that it’s time to embrace them “in a more open and physical way.”
“We’ve come to a time as a species where we are moving away from being planetary-centric beings, and moving towards becoming galactic beings,” said Self.
She established the group to provide people a platform to share their UFO sighting experiences and to prepare themselves for further contact with beings from outer space. She believes that can be achieved through meditation and feeling the connection deepens with these beings.
As the sky darkened that fall evening, the group switched into a meditative pose. A mellow-sounding meditation guide played on Self’s laptop as she instructed the group to close their eyes and focus their attention inwards.
After a 15-minute session, the group walked to a private helipad nearby. Carrying lawn chairs, blankets and binoculars, they were ready for the UFO-gazing experience. They keenly watched every blinking object in the sky.
“Don’t flash at it!” someone shouted, when one man aimed a laser to pinpoint at a flying object.
“It’s a great bunch of folks,” said Emin Navarro, 64, an Austin-based guitarist and Army retiree. “Everyone accepts what is being said and stays positive about the possibilities.”
Navarro joined the group two years ago after he said he spotted a UFO shaped like a Chinese box kite in Dallas. However, he seldom talks about his experience with his family or friends because he thinks they will belittle his encounter.
“People are not very accepting of the unusual,” he said.
Robert Powell is director of research and field investigator in Texas for the Mutual UFO Network. or MUFON, based in Newport Beach, California, investigates UFO sightings and has a weekly “traffic report” digital radio show.
“If you meet a friend in a coffee shop, he might want to talk with you about his UFO experience,” said Powell. “But if you met him in a classroom and the teacher asked if anyone had a UFO experience, he would probably not raise his hand.”
While there has been stigma and mystery surrounding UFOs, on a national level, more than 90,000 UFO sighting cases have been curated at the National UFO Reporting Center, a Seattle-based organization. Texas is one of the top states for UFO reports, according to the organization’s website.
UFO enthusiasts have different opinions about why the topic has been marginalized. Some claim that it is a government conspiracy, while others believe it has to do with the belief system.
“We’ve built our society over the last 2,000 years on certain beliefs to come to what we have today,” said Ken Jordan, director of MUFON’s San Antonio Chapter. “It took us a while to accept that we are not the center of the universe, and we’ll get used to the fact that we are not the only ones in the universe eventually. In many major religions, there is still a stigma attached to the fact that somebody else might be out there.”
During her campaign, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said in a radio interview that she would open government files on the subject of UFOs and Area 51, a restricted part of Edwards Air Force Base in Nevada that has been the topic of numerous conspiracy theories. Clinton’s statement led some UFO enthusiasts to declare her the “ET candidate.”
Jordan wasn’t buying it. “She is a member of the secret organization that is committed to keeping information quiet,” he said.
Diana McManus, 65, one of the original members of Austin Skywatchers, said she became a believer after seeing something hovering over her backyard in Austin three years ago.
“I was trying to meditate and I thought to myself, ‘If you are really out there, then show me’,” said McManus.
When she looked up, McManus suddenly saw a white ball of light, half the size of the moon, darting across the sky and then disappearing.
“I was amazed,” said McManus. “I feel that they must have heard me.”