Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spirit World: If You Saw a Ghost...

For a moment, forget whether or not you believe ghosts are real. At the end of the day, none of this work is about whether or not you believe in ghosts. But our interactions with other, whether it’s spirit world or an unknown culture, are moments that define the aspects of us that are not otherwise tested regularly. They are our very own teachable moments.
Why does the supernatural scare us? Because it is one of the last unexplained reaches we haven’t been able to quantify yet. At the turn of the 20th century, we still had not mapped exploration to the poles, and there were so many places unknown to our world still. Now, there is little of our known world left to challenge us. But challenges, when framed correctly, test us and shape us. These moments hardly ever feel safe.
Many of us have had experiences that tested us and darkened our lives for a while. Moments that we pushed through and moved past. In these moments we struggle to learn to be a survivor rather than a victim. None of us are alone in that journey. Life is not fair and not always kind.
How do you respond to those moments? Do you freeze and wait for the danger to pass over you? Or do you bolt at the first sound to stay hidden? Freezing leaves you open to capture, to attack, to hurt. Bolting keeps you on the run, often missing important moments that held no danger at all. How does fear own your body?
I was disheartened to discover that I had become a rabbit. Not the run-as-fast-as-you-can rabbit, but the kind that freezes when it’s seen, when it’s in danger, waiting for the scare to move on. It left me open to more hurt and that was not the person I wanted to be. My emotional body and my physical body were not in sync.
You cannot reach out to the spirit world successfully if you cannot stand fully in yourself. What I needed to learn, without judging myself for what I would discover, was how I responded to stimulus. I couldn’t move forward in my practice until I knew. Touching the spirit world is about learning where your body has resistance to it, and if you care, learning where the walls you have put up are, so you can work at expanding your world and your truth.
It’s not about pushing yourself past your threshold in an unsafe way. It’s definitely not about breaking yourself. It’s about learning where your boundaries are and how to gently push at them, like seedlings pushing out of the earth.
Allow yourself to imagine that you are alone in an empty house. It is the middle of the night. You hear a strange noise and look up, thinking for the moment that you see a figure in the next room that just as suddenly disappears. The house feels different, as if there is a presence in it that you can’t see, as if you are being watched.
Does the adrenaline-surge in your body taste like movement or fear? Does it push you forward or does it freeze you where you are? Do you believe that your eyes saw form or do you dismiss it as a figment because now nothing is there? Do you run from the house and refuse to enter it again unless accompanied by friends after the sun comes up? Do you spend the next few days living with the lights on?
Do you freeze where you are and wait to see if there is more activity? Do you go towards the spot where you think you saw something, with a heavy object in hand, and investigate whether or not something was really there? Do you simply return to what you were doing and ignore it?
Do you try to engage the entity? Do you ask it what it wants? Do you ask it to move on? Do you let it know it’s scaring you? Do you let the moment go but stay open to experiencing one again?
What emotions move in your body?
How we meet our fear highlights our nature. Most people will spend their time explaining to themselves why they couldn’t possibly have seen a ghost, because ghosts are not real so they cannot exist. I say that it doesn’t matter whether the existence of spectres is true or false to the moment. The facts surrounding ghosts is in itself ether and knowledge does not speak to who you are as a person.
We cannot control what happens to us. The only control we have is how we respond to it. We can only control what interactions we have with the natural world if we remove ourselves from it. But to remove ourselves from it would be to deny our own role in this world we share. We should immerse ourselves in it. The natural world is constantly trying to reach out to us and help us find the way back to stasis, center and home.

Relevant Posts
Spirit World: Ghost Visitations (published September 13, 2011)
Spirit World: Afraid of What Lies in the Dark (published April 4, 2012)
Spirit World: Haunting at White Street (published April 11, 2012)
Spirit World: What is Ghost? (published April 18, 2012)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spirit World: What is Ghost?

Not everyone who dies becomes a ghost.
Anyone who is ready to meet the moment of their end passes quickly. But not as the solid being we knew, loved and touched with our hands. We are more than our bodies. The matter dries and decays. But what is spirit leaves the vessel when the heart stops. I have witnessed it. I have felt the essence of my grandfather leave the room suddenly barren and cold. Empty. In that moment, the body was just… body. Not Grandpa. It is what I know to be true.
The rest is what I feel, what I believe, what I have pieced together through my practice and experiences. It is easy to accept death when you witness the exit of the spirit. Even then, I believe the spirit that leaves often splits, just as we can split ourselves into different functions; student, lover, spouse, parent, employee. I believe the spirit moves on, reincarnates and remains behind, becoming another part of the earth we live on. I believe in multiple truths.
Working with the spirit world relies a lot on trusting your gut, being quiet enough to listen to your intuition. It means you accept and work with the information you are receiving/sensing/seeing until it is proven otherwise. Then you reevaluate and adjust how you perceive and process. Nothing is either one thing or another.
I’ve had experiences with the supernatural world. I can’t explain them. They are what they are. These experiences used to create fear in me, and I allowed myself to be frightened and panicked by events that, years later when I was more open, I understood to be nothing more than worlds overlapping and attempted communications. There’s a difference between ghosts, or earthbound spirits, and haunted objects or haunted places. When I say ghost I don’t mean poltergeists or other unknown things that go bump in the night. I mean the echoes of people who were human once and alive in the living world with names and families.
I don’t see ghosts the way I see reality unfolding before me. It’s more like the flickering of form in the corner of my eye, in the corner of my brain. It’s the moment I lift my head because someone walked into the room- an instinctual sense of another presence- only to open my physical eyes and see the room is empty. It’s seeing movement in an empty space with clear and rested eyes. It’s the sense of sudden temperature change outside of the body at a fixed point. Once I moved through my fear of those moments, and learned to stand at the threshold, I began to get clearer impressions: male, female, approximate age, clothing silhouette, smells, time, etc.
A friend asked me recently how you know you’re interacting with spirits and not just going insane. If you’re not asking yourself that question, you shouldn’t be doing this work. For myself, I know where that line is and I know the difference. But this line, this unknowing is the place that is dangerous for others to follow. If you do not believe, you can fall into the rift between the two. If you do not believe that what you are experiencing is happening, you will give into the fear of it. You have to be willing to accepting, questioning and, at the same time, allow the story to remain unfinished and unended. Because the truth of it will change as your perception alters.
I have only seen Elsie, my Great-Grandmother, once since the moment I woke to find her sitting on the end of my bed the morning she died. I have only opened my eyes to see her once more, eating across from me at a Dumb Supper I hosted. She poured salt on her plate and I remembered that she put salt on her chicken wings when she visited us. It was one of her rituals that fascinated me as a child. I have heard her speaking but mostly I smell her. There was a scent of her skin like cool cucumber and baby powder. I smell it and I feel a hand touch my head. Then, I am awash with the emotion I attached to her. And she is with me.
The thing about ghost visits is that eventually, time doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does to the mundane world. I can close my eyes and pull flesh-memory out of ether into breath. I can hear the sound of my Grandmother’s laughter at will. I can smell the scent of a dead friend’s skin. I can hold the hand of my Great-Grandmother and recall exactly the cool, paper-silk sensation of her flesh in mine. They become more than a remembering. It is a new experience. I become the meeting place of the living and spirit.
The ghosts that used to haunt me are comfort to me now. Because the ability I have learned with them transcends the spirit world. I can think of a friend from high school and I can recall how it felt to talk to them, how important they were, how small our world seemed then and how strong our bond was. I may not have that anymore, but it is a brick and foundation of who I am, that still swims in my own spirit body. For if flesh and bone can become ghost, surely so can time. Everyone who has ever touched me walks with me. Because of my work, I am never alone.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spirit World: A Haunting at White Street

What follows is a true story that happened to me in college after the house I was living in had been empty for a month. I’ve tried not to embellish. It’s not a horror story. It’s just my story.
I was living in a house off-campus with friends. It was winter break and I was at home with my family. One of my housemates called me late at night. She’d gone back to school early and was alone in our house. She was downstairs watching television and heard someone walking down the hallway upstairs. She was spooked enough that she called me to tell me she wasn’t going up there until it was light out. She was not someone prone to moments like that. So when she said she heard footsteps, while she was talking to me, I believed her.
The next day I went back earlier than I had planned only to find that she hadn’t stayed. I walked into an empty house late at night and took my groceries into the kitchen. I put the stuff that needed to go in the fridge away and left the rest in the paper bag on the counter until morning. I loved that kitchen. There was a small pantry space with floor to ceiling wooden doors, like small ornate cubbies. And then in the kitchen proper were the normal cabinets and sink and, like every good college house, a stove whose pilot light had to be re-lit every other day.
I went upstairs to my bedroom, fell asleep, and had a weird dream… my landlord brought a work crew into the house to install a security system that was really like spyware. He didn’t think anyone was home. In the dream, the installation woke me up and I went downstairs to see what was going on and chased him out of the house for being there without permission.
Our landlord wasn’t the kind of person to actually allow himself into the house like other landlords I’ve had, but he did drive by every day, out of his way, to make sure we weren’t burning the place down. (One time he did wake us at 7 am with the soothing sounds of a table saw in the basement, which he had designated as his personal storage room.) So it wasn’t the context of the dream that was strange. It was the realness of how it felt, more like déjà vu than a dream.
I woke to the sound of the television on downstairs, blaring the studio audience from Jerry Springer or Jenny Jones- some show like that. Maybe my housemate had come back, I thought. But I knew that if she had she would have woken me up to tell me so. I bolted out of bed, reaching for a nearby hammer.
As soon as my feet hit the floor I woke up. But the sound of the television was clearer and louder, not fading into dream world. My heart was thudding in my chest and I went to my bedroom door trying to calm myself down.
I opened the door and the television was blaringly loud. I took a breath and stepped out into the hallway and the house became utterly still, pin-drop silent. Now I was confused. I stepped back into my bedroom and the television sounds blared back to life in the living room beneath me. I hopped back and forth a few times but it was consistent- silence in the hallway, sounds of life downstairs in my bedroom. In one of those screw-your-courage-to-the-sticking-place moments, I hefted my hammer and crept downstairs slowly through the quiet that met me when I passed through the bedroom doorway.
The house was empty. The first thing I did was check the front door but everything was locked up as I’d left it the night before. The second thing I did was check the television. It was cold, not even remotely warm. I held my breath and turned it on to some morning news program. I relaxed and laughed at myself a bit, then moved to check the other rooms to be sure all was well.
Inside the kitchen, every single cupboard door in the pantry was standing open, including the ones none of us could reach. The fridge door was hanging open. The freezer door was open. The kitchen cupboards above the sink were wide open and all of the cupboard doors below the counter and sink were open. The items I had left in the brown grocery bag were outside of it, lined up on the counter in a row.
I ran to the door leading down into the basement assuming there’d been a break-in. But it was still double-locked, insuring no one could get in from the other side. I left everything where it was and went back up to my bedroom, with my hammer. I locked the door behind me and called another friend to talk through what happened. Four hours later she was at my door, also back to school earlier than planned.
She saw the kitchen and we went to my room so I could pack a quick bag. She was sitting, facing my doorway, when I heard footsteps in the hall. So did she. I saw her face drain of color as the footsteps passed by the doorway. My friend saw a shadowy shape. We both listened to the footsteps going up the attic stairs. We left quickly and I stayed away until my other housemates came back and the house was full again.
There was nothing afterwards.

Looking Back
I think it’s important to note that at the time, I never felt unsafe or that my life was in danger. It was still a little too close to the line of “unexplainable” and that’s what scared me. That’s what I didn’t want to be alone with. Any doubt I had disappeared in the shared experience with my friend. It happened. I can’t explain it, but to erase it from my history, for that reason alone, would be a worse tragedy.
What I think now, is that he was a lonely spirit, still attached to his humanity, who got restless when the house was empty. Maybe it was too clear a reminder that he existed separate from the living world. Once the house was full again he was quiet. I don’t know if he was attached to the house or drawn to our energy, or just passing through.
I think about that moment often as one I can’t explain away, and one I don’t need to. I’m not afraid of things that go bump in the night. I only want to know their stories.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spirit World: Afraid of What Lies in the Dark

It’s a double-edged word. It literally means “spirit of the dead” and that is its true definition. Culturally, the word carries a negative connotation. Ghost has a history behind it of propagating fear and keeping people away. One of the reasons I use it in the context of my work is because I want people to understand a simple truth. Every feared apparition is someone’s ancestor. Every ghost was once a living, breathing person, like you and me.
When people are afraid of ghosts and ghost stories, it often leads to their being afraid of spirits, the spirit world and ancestor work. Only once in all of my workings have I encountered what I would call a malevolent spirit, one that scared me. It does happen, but it was more echo-of-emotional-anger and less disembodied spirit. That’s once in over thirty years of encountering something I perceived as dangerous and with the help of my Women of Spirit group from my Unitarian-Universalist church, we performed a house cleansing and blessing and consecrated our home, sending it away.
I know adults who are afraid of the dark, afraid of the idea of ghosts and afraid of ghost stories (especially real ones). I also know adults who sit in fear of anything past the boundary of what is known and familiar to them, natural or supernatural. It has become the human condition to be afraid of what we can’t explain or see. But we limit ourselves by depending on one sensory interpretation. There is more than the world we know.
I think it’s important to challenge ourselves in the ways that we are able, to face our fears, work through them and emerge stronger people in new skins. The spirit world exists, and often the vapors and echoes of human life are all around us- even if we take no notice of them.
There is a moment in the film The Empire Strikes Back when Luke is faced with entering a dark cave alone. He asks his mentor, Yoda, what is in there. Yoda’s answer is simple and powerful and beyond Luke’s comprehension. “Only what you take with you.” So what truly lies in the unknown, waiting for us? The answer is the same. What lies in the dark is we take into the dark with us. The fear that lives inside us is the fear we will find outside ourselves.
When I was a little girl I wanted to believe that my house was haunted. It was over 100 years old and I was sure, in my innocence that it must be. All old things were haunted, right? But it wasn’t. So I would willingly go to places that people said were haunted or where supernatural events had frightened them.
As an early teen I went a few places I shouldn’t have, chasing ghosts. I wanted to believe, to believe there was more. I wanted to see what I was made of- could I face my darkness? After all, I was getting older and the world was growing scarier. Scary things were happening to me in my real life. I allowed myself to feel the fear my friends felt when I had real encounters. I allowed myself to be afraid. It was easier to retreat to a realm of safety by putting walls up and closing my world up.
I can look back at those moments with my adult eyes and understand that it was the opening of myself into the larger world that scared me. Not the ghost or spectre or spirit. I mean, if my neighbor walked by me while gardening and said hello I wouldn’t be afraid of them. The spirit world is simply neighborhood adjacent.
In my experience, when supernatural activity scares us, and we respond in fear, we are closing a door. Most of the frightening activity is not meant to cause terror. Imagine if you found you suddenly couldn’t speak. You would have to learn another way to communicate, right? So spirits who lack corporeal form are trying to find a way to interact. In most cases, that’s all that’s happening. Try acknowledging the experience and most likely, it will stop.
It’s important to know the history of the way we think. The journey is just as important as the destination. One of the terms for a spirit of the dead is shade. Shade. Shadow. Our worlds are made up of a chiaroscuro of light and dark, white and black, and good and bad.
What we must endeavor to find are the shades of grey where they blend and merge. That’s where the truth lives, between what is known and unknown, where stories overlap. The next time you have a moment of feeling something you can’t see, don’t be so quick to dismiss it as impossible. Simply believe in the possibility of the improbable; keep a door to your world open.

Relevant Posts:
Spirit World: Ghost Visitations (published on July 11, 2011)
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