It’s nearly impossible to access nonordinary experience with ordinary consciousness because the ordinary consciousness we learn in this society tends to be exclusive. That is, our consciousness splits up what we see into pieces so that we interpret what we see and feel from a linear cause-and-effect perspective. This sort of mental organization has benefits, but stubborn reliance on exclusive thinking makes it difficult for us to imagine any other way of interpreting our world. In the end, we develop a form of tunnel vision that selects out only a small portion of total reality. In other words, the truth is out there all around us . . . but we (unconsciously, at least) insist on the habit of narrow vision. We miss so much!
Part of our problem is rooted in our dependency on the tidy American life that we have come to love. We are addicted comfort. We don’t want to be bothered by nasty things like death or anything else that pushes the boundaries of what we, by common consent, have decided we want to believe. Certainly, this view does contribute to a sense of safety and security, although, perhaps, our society could profit from the realization that our stubborn pursuit of security isn’t common. In fact, we qualify as a curious, and perhaps unhealthy, anomaly to much of the world. There are cultures in Africa, Asia, or in less developed parts of the Western world, that find our need for a tightly controlled existence the height of foolishness.
In contrast to the dominant North American/Western European view, there are a number of cultures that are comforted by the belief that humanity is connected to the dynamic universe. Humans aren’t a discrete phenomenon. By tapping into a deep understanding of the universe, these cultures are able to transcend the uninteresting “ordinariness” of modern culture. This insight accounts for a number of rites and rituals that these cultures take seriously, but which we, as tourists, consider a quaint photo-op. Sadly, native cultures have become so accustomed to tourist mentality that they usually deliver a tourist-grade version of what they otherwise consider sacred. Since genuine rituals are a subtle play on consciousness, tourists aren’t welcome. Those involved in a genuine ritual prefer to remain focused on their consecrated space. Gawkers disrupt the flow.
In truth, real rituals are notoriously boring for vacationing onlookers because, to be effective, these rituals must be experienced from the inside out. There is little Hollywood-style flash and fury. Emotions and feelings have purpose and power that transcends the individual. They don’t merely represent inferior forms of knowing. They are where the action is! The message is that, in rites and rituals, one can’t be an onlooker; one must be a participant. One’s state of being is vital for the results one is likely to get.
Linking this idea to paranormal investigation that takes place in Western cultures, we might conclude that, to experience phenomena, we must engage in rituals that are common for certain indigenous people that do see ghosts and other spirits. Sure, we can try, but it is a mistake to confuse ritual with the result that the ritual is supposed to elicit. If a ritual is alien to our culture, it will likely appear to us as awkward and artificial. It will just be a show. It is more useful to realize that our task isn’t to emulate other cultures; it is to find a way to work with paranormal investigation within our culture. Is this an unrealistic goal? Not if we learn to arrange our American thought so that it supports paranormal investigation in a way that harmonizes with, and extends, how we have learned to think in our culture. Yes, we continue to use a solid scientific approach during an investigation, but we integrate this scientific approach with subtle elements that deepen our understanding.
Maybe the secret of conducting an investigation lies in learning not to try too hard. Maybe it lies in not taking our mission too seriously. Instead of focusing on the absolute necessity of seeing a ghost, maybe it’s more useful to work on putting ourselves into a state of mind that is most likely to make us receptive to ghostly phenomena. Accessing the right state of mind is tricky. Often, it means that an investigator must not only be able to suspend disbelief, but must also suspend belief. That is, we don’t have expectations about what we might experience. It’s not that we don’t care (which, in a way, is having an opinion); it means our mind freely takes in events to which to it is exposed. In many ways, we are emulating the mind of a child: we take in what is around us, but don’t match up experienced events with learned expectations that take the form of mental chatter.
I can’t stress the matter strongly enough: adult chatter is a powerful blocking mechanism. This adult blocking mechanism frequently appears in standard scientific studies in which an investigator sets out to “prove” a selected slice of reality. In this quest to prove, the selected slice will soon begin to appear in everything from corned beef hash to the kitchen sink. Although convenient for exploring specific details, the capacity to block leads to a narrow black-and-white view of the world that stubbornly insists that one only reality is absolutely correct. Such rigidity doesn’t apply to children. A child has a natural advantage because the child hasn’t acquired the adult capacity for mental chatter that covers what, in essence, may be perfectly natural phenomena that only we inflexible adults consider “nonordinary” experience. A child’s mind is fluid, not exclusive. It is open. It does not emulate the adult mind by recognizing some information and by blocking other information.
To review, a child’s thinking is remarkably fluid-which may account for the unusual propensity of children to experience phenomena that escapes our attention. The reason is that their mind is more open than the mind of an adult. That is because they haven’t collected enough information to lead to a black-and-white mentality. This mental flexibility may be why children are more capable of exhibiting sensitivity to paranormal activity.
Of course, paranormal researchers are adults. We have to work with the mentality we have. We can, however, still learn by observing the fluidity of children (that is, when they aren’t busy developing the ego identity that will eventually lead to blocking). We have to be able to admit that we don’t know it all. We must acknowledge that our thinking can be as fluid as that of a child. When our thoughts reach the desired level of fluidity, our powers of observation will peak.
This all sounds good, but I suspect you might be thinking that fluidity is easier said than done. Although this conclusion is true, fluidity is not the impossible dream. With a little dedicated effort, we can open our minds. We can explore mental fluidity. But how?
My suggestion is that we try out some meditation practices. I don’t mean that we begin adhering to this or that religion. What I mean is that we learn to quiet the mind so that our habit of blocking relaxes. By practicing meditation. we might realize that, in essence, the mind is fluid. That is its nature. It’s fluid for a child because, once again, a child hasn’t learned to block the natural flow with learned information that sets up patterns of neuronal firing that we use again and again to support a consistent reality. Such patterns may seem comforting, but the sad truth is that habits of thinking quickly make us into fuddy-duddies. Meditation breaks up fuddy-duddy pattern holding by breaking up dependence on accustomed patterns of thinking so that new ideas can filter through. One way of illustrating the meditative process is to imagine a piece of elastic netting that’s tightly scrunched up into a knot. There isn’t much we can introduce into the knot because, if it is very elastic, the knot pulls itself together so tightly that there’s no room for anything else. If, however, we pick up the knot and pull at it for awhile, the knot’s elasticity will eventually lose its snap. The knot relaxes. When it relaxes, we can see what was blocked by the knot. Maybe it was a dresser. Maybe it was a mirror. Maybe it was an entity standing on the other side of the room. The point is that the more we relax the mind, the more we are likely to increase our perceptions.
No, I can’t guarantee that a meditative practice will increase receptivity to paranormal phenomena, but I can point out that a number of cultures that honor the practice of meditation demonstrate an unusual sensitivity to paranormal activity. It isn’t because people in these cultures are unusually psychic (or gullible); it’s because they are open to the paranormal. Actually, according to these cultures, such activity isn’t paranormal. What we call nonordinary experience is, in fact, a normal part of life. Why? Possibly because the culture has allowed minds to embrace subtle elements in the environment that we Westerners routinely miss. A sensitive culture isn’t more imaginative; we are more closed. We can profit from experimenting with different ways of using our minds. Meditation is a good start.
What sort of practice should we try? It doesn’t matter. The best approach is to look around and see what’s out there, and then, on the basis of collected information, to choose a method with which each of us feels comfortable. Often we are attracted to a particular practice because of a particular quality about the practice that resonates with us as an individual. This resonance is important because, sometimes, we learn a practice and, in the course of practicing, we find a way to explain the practice so that it suddenly harmonizes with, and enhances, our personal understanding. I can use myself as an example: I always had trouble working through the idea of having “nothing” in my head. What is nothing? I felt like I had to fight to have nothing in my mind. I was doing too much work! Then, one day, I realized that it was far better for me to pursue a feeling of “everythingness.” That is, I relaxed the mind so that I could “step back” and let the whole universe flow into my mind. I realized that “everythingness” is nothing in particular. This realization helped. In opening the mind in this way, I experienced a heightened state of receptivity, the sort of receptivity that, yes, is ideal for experiencing paranormal phenomena. In this state of mind, it, as of yet, hasn’t occurred to me to feel fear, or have a feeling of being “creeped out” (both of which are sensations that lead to blocks) when confronted with unusual experience. If I see anything out of the ordinary, I’m curious, but neither surprised nor excited. I’m merely in a receptive state of mind.
In this discussion, I don’t refer to meditation as a spiritual practice. I’ve been more pragmatic: a meditative mind is a great mental state from which to observe paranormal phenomena. There’s plenty of room to experience the nonordinary without the blocks of expectation. I encourage meditative practice, not just for its ability to allow us to cope with our lives, but also because its value as a tool for rediscovering the unencumbered child mind that opens us to unaccustomed experience. It’s where we want to be! Once our mind is open, we are ready to progress to the introduction of scientific method into research. . . .