Communicating with those who have died has become popular again. It's a media thing. There's a popular TV show "Medium," in which Patricia Arquette plays a psychic who helps to solve crimes. There was Haley Joel Osment, the child psychic in "Sixth Sense." And there are real-life psychics like Sylvia Browne, John Edward, James Van Praagh, and others. I don't doubt that these people see what they say they do. It's just that other people aren't seeing it. Nobody else experiences it. People watch the shows and are suitably impressed (or not) by the powers of the stars.
Now I am an incorrigible skeptic. I'm not just any old skeptic, mind you. I have been a psychic reader for over thirty years. But I am suspicious of anything that becomes a fad. And connecting with those who have gone beyond seems to have become another fad. So let me get a few things off my chest.
We humans are the only species that know we are going to die. Some people have concluded that this is the very reason for spirituality. These folks say that humans need to believe in something more than mortality. And there's the rub: belief.
Admittedly, there is something ungracious about speaking against belief on a website called "Beliefnet," but speak out I must. For belief is the acceptance of someone else's experience. There is a great chasm between believing and knowing. And people have believed in just about everything from the desirability of eliminating one's neighbors to the man in the moon. But what we know is in our hearts and souls and belongs to each of us alone.
The notion that those who have died are still around is comforting. But it can easily be a false comfort. There is a wonderful book used by grief counselors who deal with children who have lost parents. Its title expresses the point clearly: The Loss That Is Forever. The book cautions people not to tell children that their dead parent is still around or will return. The loss is forever. The empty space is never filled. That's life. That's death.
It is the mystery of death that eludes us. We so desperately want to see things in ways that we can understand. We want lost loved ones to have the same form as when they were alive. We want to be able to speak with them. We want to know that they are not gone. And this desire is as old as the human race. We don't want to accept our loss.
So we have people who become "telephones" for the dead. We have images of ghosts in forms that we can recognize. We have, in short, the demystifying of the mystery. But wishing doesn't make it so.
The irony is that the more we try to make mysteries commonplace, the more out of reach they become for all of us. Hollywood has turned the supernatural into a cinematic cliché. Ghosts that shimmer and fade, evil winged creatures that arise from cracks in the earth, giant serpents, animated skeletons-these have passed down from the medieval witch hunters to the present film studios. In alchemy of their own, the mass media have transformed all mystery-all that which is beyond the rational-into something both horrible and familiar. In truth, the supernatural-the mystery-is neither horrible nor familiar.
In my experience, mystery is not scary, even though it is unknown. We are taught to fear the unknown. My experience of those who have died is limited but very real to me. Again, it is something I know-not a belief.
When I was a child, two important people died. One, my mother, died when I was nine months old. When I was two, my father married the woman who was to be my mother for the next 56 years. My father went off to war, returned, and died when I was nine.I don't remember my birth mother. A linguist friend of mine once said that my ability to emulate a Scottish accent might well have been a memory of her speech, since she was a Scot. But I did experience her after she had died.
It must have been 1941. I was two. My father had remarried, and all three of us went on a kind of honeymoon to a cottage in the country. My father and my new mom were in bed, and I was playing on the floor. I remember that I noticed an electrical outlet and started to crawl towards it. I thought I would see if I could fit my fingers into those little holes.
Neither adult could grab me in time. I was right there. I was reaching out. And then, out of nowhere, racing in front of me, between me and the outlet, was the biggest, blackest, hairiest spider in the history of childhood nightmares. I remember my terror. I remember falling back, away from the outlet. I was pulled on to the bed and did not go near that outlet again. That spider had achieved what neither of those adults could have. It had come from nowhere and saved me from a very dangerous mistake.
Years later my friend Harriet removed a little spider from my car's rear-view mirror as we drove to the movies. When I commented on my fear of spiders, she said simply, "The spider is the mother." I knew that. After all, I had looked at hundreds of cultures while working on my two books. So many people around the world respected the spider as the wise old mother who saves her children through the use of ingenuity. Now I realized in a flash that that spider of so many decades ago was not just "the" mother. She was my mother. And she had protected me. She had done this without words and without a human form.
Connecting with spirit is not an exact science. However, we are, these days, overly trained in our left brain. I cannot prove that my mother's spirit returned to me in the form of a spider. How could I? Perhaps I imagined the entire thing. But imagination is our brilliance as a species. Imagination allows us to tread in unknown areas. As Albert Einstein put it, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." And while we are at it, Einstein also said, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science."
If we allow ourselves to imagine, we allow ourselves to explore. Then the regions we discover will be truly new. That is the nature of exploration. We may find that the energy of those who have died can cross our paths in a myriad of ways-always unexpected and rarely "natural."
My father is, of course, a more recognizable memory to me. There is a world of difference between the perceptions of a nine-month-old and a nine-year-old boy. But here, too, the form of his reappearance was unique.
My friend Helen and I had been meditating in her basement room. It was in the dark of winter-a gray February. We finished the meditation and sat still with our eyes closed. It was then that I felt a warm kiss of sunshine on my cheek and knew it was my father. There was no whisper in the ear. No materialization of shape. There was just a kiss of sunshine on my cheek in that windowless basement. And I knew. Again, I had no proof. I simply had a certainty that came from a still and clear place within.
My other experiences with spirit have been similarly strange and unexpected. So they need to be. For there is no way to be familiar with the unknown.
All of us have had experiences that transcend belief and knowledge. All of us have experienced connections with those who have died. But the forms are unexpected and mysterious. They have to be. To translate these experiences into the familiar is to trivialize a mystery. The more we open ourselves to different ways of knowing, the richer will be our connection to realms yet unseen.