International Society for Paranormal Research

Train Tunnel Near Chatsworth

I live in the heart of the old Santa Susana Pass area, just to the south on a one-lane road to nowhere. Never, in all my life, have I lived anywhere that so richly deserves the label “haunted”. I have a great deal to say about what that means, but there is no way to understand this particular haunting without some background. History first.

The Santa Susana Mountains were once home to several Native American tribes, including Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians, the Kizh Nation and Barbareño, Ineseño, and Ventureño Chumash. Traces of their footpaths still run through this area, and there are protected pictographs in caves near Burro Flats, a site that no unauthorized person is allowed to view. Their location is a secret; they are somewhere near the old Santa Susana Field Laboratory, site of the worst…

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Nothing is more difficult for me than accepting what I want. Do I have a destination on this journey? I don’t know; but I keep moving towards something that seems both elusive and thrillingly possible.

Women are typically raised to fulfill the needs of others: husbands, partners, children, supervisors, students, extended family, pets, and anyone else who we can help, save, or serve. I would love to say that this is some antiquated notion that no longer applies, but I see this in myself, my students, my family, and my friends. We exist for so long to make someone else’s existence easier. In the process, we forget who we are and we can’t name what we want. If we do, if we can, we feel searing guilt around placing ourselves “first”, not thinking that those around us are doing that very thing, unworried that they are not serving us or supporting our dreams.

What is this revolutionary act that I wish engage in? What is the wild and crazy scenario that I am pursuing, and feeling so terribly guilty about? I want to live in Idyllwild full time, help build or run a community center, and travel to Spain with my husband a couple times a year. When I write in down, it doesn’t seem so extravagant. And yet, I find myself battling self hatred for simply wanting to create a life that honors my path and not anyone else’s. Why is that the case? Why do so many women, especially as they hit their 50’s, feel like it’s only now that we can timidly and with great caution venture out into the world for ourselves?

For decades, my life was about seeking out others’ approval. I needed to be the best teacher at work, the most dedicated daughter, wife, mother, and friend. My entire life was about what someone else might expect from me and trying to meet those expectations, whether they were stated or implied. But a strange thing happens when you live to please or serve others. Those people for whom you sacrifice yourself pull away. They didn’t ask for your sacrifice; they are usually threatened and defensive around a person who hands over her heart and soul on a platter and cares so little for their own needs and desires. On top of gutting your sense of self, in addition to losing your soul, you feel a crushing sense of failure; your sacrifices did not make your daughter happy, or fix your parents’ various issues and foibles, or inspire your husband, or motivate your students. You might make small differences, but the big, emotional gestures, the list of things you gave up, well, didn’t create the Big Changes you expected. You didn’t save anyone; you were not meant to.

So now, when time feels like it’s growing shorter, our life spans gradually shortening like summer melting into fall, there is this urgent sense that it’s now or never. Do you want that full-time house in the mountains? Then make it happen. Do you want to practice your healing arts, your nascent mediumship? Then get over your shame and doubt and serve people without sacrifice and violation of your boundaries. Do you need to be in Spain half the year? Then give up your ties that bind, and go. Will all this bring searing guilt and fear? Of course. But, in the end, you will find that being true to yourself is not only a gift to you, but to all those who love you, too.

—Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

I hope you enjoy this, dear readers . . .

International Society for Paranormal Research

Kindred.Spirits.S05E02.Zombie.Boy.720p.WEBRip.x264-KOMPOST[rartv] Torrent  download
Amy Bruni and Adam Berry Providing “zombie boy’ with a back story

In Season 5, Episode 2 of “Kindred Spirits”, investigators Amy Bruni and Adam Berry suspect that “zombie boy”–a supposed ghost that was ramping up activity and scaring investigators at a Massachusetts estate–is a creation of the very people who so fervently believe in him. Much like “Phillip”, the invented ghost from a series of seances in the 1970’s, “zombie boy” had started to appear to investigators and even possess one of them. The photos provided as evidence of his existence were unconvincing to Amy Bruni, and after a few frustrating attempts to figure out his identity, it is she who starts to wonder if “zombie boy” might be an “egregore”:

“Egregore is an occult concept representing a distinct non-physical entity that arises from a collective group of people. Historically, the concept referred to angelic beings, or watchers, and…

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About Me

January 2021

The issue cannot be avoided. Are paranormal investigators qualified to make statements on the afterlife and all things immaterial? What degrees or experience do we have that allow us to analyze “data” with any measure of professionalism? Are there no experts in the paranormal, as fellow member Keith Linder (MUCH more about him coming) affirms in his books? Why do I think that I have anything to contribute to this field of inquiry?

There are no stand-alone degrees in Paranormal Studies. The University of Virginia offers a degree in the Division of Perceptual Studies (https://med.virginia.edu/perceptual-studies/history-of-dops/) through the School of Medicine; you can take courses at the University of Arizona through the Department of Psychology, where the preeminent researcher of consciousness, Gary Schwartz, carries out his research into survival of consciousness (https://psychology.arizona.edu/users/gary-schwartz); and The University of Edinburgh offers programs and courses through the Koestler Parapsychology Unit, housed under the Department of Psychology (https://koestlerunit.wordpress.com/research-overview/). I’m sure there are other micro programs around the world, but my bet is that they are housed under a standard, accepted, academic discipline. This is significant for the following reasons: parapsychology is a sub specialty within Psychology or Medicine, not a stand-alone discipline, and it is quite rare to find this course of study anywhere outside of the places I mention above.

My doctoral degree is in Spanish and Romance Languages from Yale University. How would a degree like mine apply to the study of the paranormal? When you survive the boot camp that is Yale graduate school, you learn how to analyze, deconstruct, and contextualize a wide variety of texts; you conduct research and figure out how to solve problems and puzzles related to the origins, intentions, and purposes of stories, novels, essays, manuals, and historical documents; and you dive deep into Hispanic folklore, much of which centers on tales of ghosts, cryptids, assorted demons, zombies, witches, and supernatural experiences of every conceivable variety.

However, no matter what one’s background, you do need the ability to understand the nature of consciousness and how it survives death; and no, I cannot claim to be able to explain that. Nobody can. Not even Gary Schwartz, who has dedicated his life to understanding consciousness and survival of death, can explain how that might work. In fact, nobody can really claim to explain how consciousness works, how it can either be produced by the brain (materialism) or how it can function without a material body (post-materialism). The continued search for answers and the excitement of the journey is what animates me and gives me a sense of purpose. My entire life has been defined by experiences that are far beyond what scientific materialism can explain; I would like to understand more deeply what those experiences mean.

What I bring to the International Society for Paranormal Research is an ability to cut through theories, data, and narratives to the psychology behind them, the driving forces that animate the search for answers. I am interested in the analysis of data and how we arrive at conclusions. I hope, above all, to create a community of researchers and investigators willing to share their findings and the meaning that they attach to them. The study of the paranormal, the non-material, is multidisciplinary. No single academic discipline can claim to own the field. The notion that only the hard sciences can possibly legitimize our work needs to be revised; for the hard sciences do not, and cannot, make claims on phenomena that falls outside of the material universe. Defending the paranormal is more like building a legal case that incorporates the social sciences, above all. To understand the paranormal, you have to understand the human mind–and our conscious and subconscious experiences. I recommend Victor Zammit’s “A Lawyer Presents Evidence for the Afterlife” for those of you interested in the legal angle for studying anomalous phenomena.

In closing, I invite you to join me in this mission, not because we will arrive at definitive answers sanctioned by Science, but because there is nothing more mysterious and exciting than the journey to the non-material realms where we find, in the end, our true nature.

Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

Take a moment to watch this short video featuring Dr. Gabor Mate

The night that I walked into a house claiming demonic activity, I knew that I should not have. The result of ignoring a ‘gut feeling’ was over a week of spiritual, emotional, and physical illness. I remember sitting on the floor of the bedroom in that house, my teammates arrayed on the bed; I knew that the darkness that surrounded us was ripping holes in my heart and mind and was influencing my friends to behave oddly and out of character. I saw that my camera was malfunctioning in ways that it never had before; I could not take photographs. My recorder spit back loud interference and static; I could not record the activity in the room. I knew that this energy was what we call ‘evil’, in the sense that it sought to confuse, disconnect, distract, divide, and create despair. So why did I stay, when the second I stepped into the foyer my entire psychic alarm system warned me to turn back?

We become disconnected from ourselves in the way Dr. Maté describes when we decide that what we think the world wants or expects from us is more important than our internal alarm systems or our gut feelings or instincts. In my case, my kryptonite is a desire to please. I did not want to let down my team by backing out of a dangerous situation. Of course, they would have understood completely; but I did not give them the chance. I had decided that my own emotional, spiritual, and psychological well being was less important than possibly disappointing my team and the client. I am socially conditioned to seek out others’ approval; I have developed a skill for divining what somebody wants or needs and attempting to supply it for them. This poses a problem in research of any kind: if you seek to please those with whom you are collaborating to the detriment of your own inner compass, you may miss the truth about the case you are investigating and the motivations of those involved.

There are other ways that this disconnection from your core instincts can sink you in your pursuit of the truth. Excessive curiosity can lead one to a sort of arrogance, where you believe that you can figure out a great mystery if you read more, collect more data, conduct more investigations, or write about it from multiple angles. If you keep attacking a problem, it will eventually yield up all the answers. This is my greatest sin, but also my greatest passion; sometimes, it is difficult to disentangle dedication and devotion from arrogant assumptions about one’s ability to ‘solve’ the most intransigent conundrums of the universe. The evil in the house I ‘investigated’ (more like ‘succumbed to’) was not something that had an answer, because I was incapable of posing the right questions. Whatever was there would have laughed at my questions, anyway; one of the characteristics of demonic phenomena is its resistance to logic and reason. When one brings a desire to understand that which resists understanding, the result can be a frustration that leads to despair.

Other forms of disconnection look like a desire for fame, for attention, for money, or for status. The line between true investigation and research into the paranormal is so often blurred by the entertainment industry that I wonder if anyone can trust the ‘evidence’ that emerges from programs designed to sell themselves. I remember the moment I realized that looking cute for the cameras while ‘chasing ghosts’ had replaced any serious attempts at reaching honest answers. It was the beginning of my spiritual crisis.

What do I ask of paranormal investigators? Of parapsychologists? Of anyone studying the nonphysical phenomena that hovers between dimensions? I ask that, in addition to collecting data, to analysis, to publication of findings and reports, that you pay attention to your instincts. Allow your ‘gut feelings’ to guide your way through a difficult case, even if that seems unscientific. Following your deepest compass, your inner voice, will lead you to the truth eventually; and sometimes, it will lead you away from a situation that poses a spiritual danger to your soul.

—Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD; founder, International Society for Paranormal Research

“Surviving Death” on Netflix examines the Big Question: does human consciousness survive physical death? The various episodes cover near death experiences (NDE), ghosts and apparitions (including crisis apparitions and near-death visions), a two-part program on mediums and mediumship, signs from the dead, and reincarnation. The reincarnation episode follows up on some of the most famous American cases: James Leininger (see more about this compelling case here: https://psi-encyclopedia.spr.ac.uk/articles/james-leininger) and Ryan Hammons (https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/boy-says-he-remembers-past-life-hollywood-agent-n327506).

My purpose here is not to review the individual cases or the series as a whole, but rather to discuss two scenes that exemplify the challenges of psychical research. Nicole de Haas appears in the “Medium” episodes, as one of the leaders and featured physical trance mediums at a mediumship development seminar in the Netherlands. When Ms. de Haas in a trance state, or when she’s behind the curtain in a darkened seance room where she produces ectoplasm off camera, she speaks in various voices that transmit messages to the audience/client. One voice is that of an elderly doctor, and the other is that of a nine-year-old boy. All of the various voices sound like de Haas herself, using vocal gymnastics to sound like her spirit guides. That does not mean that she isn’t channeling these characters; they have to use her physical voice to express themselves. And yet, there is the uncomfortable and inescapable realization that she is not providing anyone information that is not easily found on the Internet.

One of the main participants in the series is searching for evidence of his father’s continued existence after a sudden departure from this world that left him in a deep state of grief. He consults various mediums throughout these two episodes; de Haas initially impresses him and his family with details about the “green car” his brother in law owned and an oft-repeated phrase his father used in his family restaurant: “hook ’em up”. However, all of this information is easy to find on Facebook and on other sites. Does this mean she looked it all up beforehand and used the little boy voice to transmit this information to the family? Not necessarily; but the look of disappointment on her client’s face as he realizes that his father probably did not come through is heartbreaking.

The second uncomfortable moment comes when Ryan Hammons, now 15, is taken to California to meet the daughter of Marty Martyn, who was a Hollywood extra and a talent agent (he died in 1964). Ryan, as a child, recounted Marty’s past life memories with remarkable accuracy. However, by the time this documentary was filmed, he has very few actual memories. He is ceremoniously flown to Los Angeles for the big meeting with Marty’s daughter and niece, who was the only one who knew him as an adult. Ryan’s mother is very enthusiastic about this trip, but her son is clearly uncomfortable and self conscious. The meeting between families is excruciating to witness. Ryan cannot identify relatives and friends in family photos; he has no recollection of the incidents Marty’s niece recounts; and he can’t answer anyone’s questions in order to ascertain his identity as Marty reincarnated. There are long moments of strained silence. When the meeting is finally over, it’s clear that Ryan has not made a convincing case; in fact, he has made no case at all. However, prompted no doubt by the producers, Marty’s niece and daughter make encouraging statements about Ryan’s previous personality.

Ryan and his mother end up at the grave site of Marty Martyn; she has her arm around him, comforting him unnecessarily, because it is not at all clear that Ryan is upset, grieving, confused, or anything but embarrassed and overwhelmed with all the attention. What stands out in this story is a simple fact: you can’t force memory to return once it has fled. There is no holding onto the past; Marty Martyn is, quite simply, not a part of Ryan Hammond’s life anymore, and that is entirely appropriate. James Leininger is clearly still affected by the death of his previous personality; he still relives his death trapped in a burning plane that was crashing near Iwo Jima during WWII.

What do I make of these moments? Nicole de Haas seems to be creating voices and relaying information that she did not obtain in a paranormal fashion, judging by the documentary; no cameras are allowed in the seance room, so there is no way to know if she actually produces ectoplasm. Ryan is a normal teenager who had extraordinary memories that have now vanished. Nicole de Haas might produce amazing and life-changing readings for her clients that do not appear on television. Actually, I’m sure she does; but is what she does paranormal, or simply the confirmation of the obvious messages that she knows people need to hear when they are wading through the deep waters of grief? Did Ryan experience some kind of extrasensory perception, soul connection, or mild possession by Marty Martyn, or is he truly the reincarnation of the deceased actor? Is it possible that his statements were rather vague, but once an eager parent seized them, the narrative coalesced?

So much of what we study in the field of the paranormal relies on believing, on taking at face value, someone’s narrative, or several people’s narratives. I could be completely wrong about Nicole de Haas. She might be an authentic physical medium with extraordinary skills, and I could be the ignorant skeptic. I’m am prepared to accept that possibility. This points out the need for deep and ongoing research; one documentary is not going to provide enough proof for or against physical and/or trance mediumship, for or against the reality of reincarnation, or the truth of the near death experience.

I want to believe everybody. I do not want to think that someone would deliberately mislead anyone in the pursuit of fortune or fame. I know, however, that this happens; human beings fall into temptation on a regular basis. I also know that once something extraordinary and anomalous happens, there is an additional temptation: faking evidence or phenomena in order to keep the attention coming. This creates a mix of authentic and fraudulent paranormal phenomena that ends up tainting an entire case, resulting in investigators ignoring or discounting data that might otherwise have been deeply insightful.

This is the eternal frustration of the paranormal investigator. We have to live between truth and falsehoods, lies and revelations, stunning evidence and demoralizing disappointments. It is very easy to be the skeptic; far too easy. We can decide that a whiff of fraud destroys an entire case, no matter how carefully constructed and researched that case might be. We can leap on one piece of questionable data and decide to deride and ignore years of work. It’s satisfying to the ego to rip someone to shreds on Facebook, crying fake and foul. It is far more difficult to entertain the possibility that extraordinary claims could be true.

It requires far more from me to think that perhaps Nicole de Haas is truly channeling spirits and producing ectoplasm, or to accept that Ryan Hammonds is the reincarnation of Marty Martyn. It means that I have to keep working, investigating, thinking, writing, and searching for the truth. That’s work. Most people don’t have patience for this level of work, this depth of inquiry. I understand that; I am regularly tempted to play the skeptic and write something snarky about a medium or a case. Then I remember my own paranormal and anomalous experiences, and recall how it felt when my reputation was tarnished at work after revealing them. I remember the derision of people in my own family and the pain that lingered for years as a result. That keeps me honest. And compassionate.

—Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

Welcome, friends, to the International Society for Paranormal Research. If you are interested in becoming a member, please read below:


Criteria for membership in the ISPR:

  1. A body of investigative work in the field of the paranormal or of anomalous experiences and/or phenomena;
  2. A willingness to publicize your work for professional review and to contribute to the ongoing work of the ISPR;
  3. Demonstrated integrity and adherence to the highest values of transparency, honesty, and open communication with those working in the field and the interested public.

As a Member:

You will be part of a ISPR’s growth as a society and will contribute to future endeavors such as investigations, conferences, and professional reviews of contributor’s work; you will have priority for publication of your work and findings in the field; you will be a part of Founder’s and Members’ meetings to discuss and determine policies for review of specific cases presented and/or under investigation; and you will have an open invitation to participate in investigations with other members of the Society.

In order to remain in good standing in the ISPR, you must adhere to the member qualifications at all times. As the Founder, I can call for removal of any member who violates the guidelines. Removal from the group may be initiated due to extended inactivity of a member, knowingly engaging in fraud, collusion, deception or falsification of results, or due to lack of communication and/or cooperation with the members of the ISPR.

I would personally like to extend an invitation to all interested readers to join us on this (ad)venture. If you have something to contribute, please consider contacting me with your bio and a sample of your work (this can be data from investigations or any summaries, analyses, or discussions of said data).

The ISPR is an open organization dedicated to investigating and presenting evidence for all aspects of the “paranormal”, including, but not limited to: all manifestations of human consciousness in post-material form; alleged hauntings of homes and sites; poltergeist activity; the work of mediums, psychics, clairvoyants and empaths; anomalous experiences that include UFO activity or any other unusual or unprecedented event, sighting, or manifestation. We are:

  • Open to all amateur and professional investigators who wish to contribute their data and conclusions for review;
  • A forum for investigators and researchers to share their research and data, but also a site for meaningful conversations among investigators regarding methodology, personal experiences, concerns, and questions;
  • International in scope, since we are all interconnected more now than ever, and paranormal phenomena is not restricted to one, particular country;
  • Non profit, with no financial or professional interests that would interfere with our primary mission;
  • Not a ‘team’ of investigators, but may announce investigations and/or invite participants.

I hope you are all as excited as I am!


Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD; Founder, ISPR


The scariest courses you can study at university | Student

For my Soulbank readers, I am pleased to report the creation of my new research and investigation project, the “International Society for Paranormal Research”, or the ISPR. Soulbank will continue to be the official blog site for this society, and I will soon start up the social media machine.

The ISPR was born out of a deep, existential crisis. Allow me to elaborate. As many of you know, I was very active in the Southern California paranormal ‘scene’, for lack of a better word, that used to meet fairly regularly on the Queen Mary in Long Beach. There were a great number of “ghost hunting” groups at the time (2008 to 2013 or so), and the popularity of the paranormal shows on television was at an all-time high. It was during this time that I started the Paranormal Housewives (still ongoing–check out paranormalhousewives.com and our FB page), an all-female group of investigators with a very diverse background, brought together by a common interest in all things mysterious and unexplained. We helped families with hauntings, we investigated countless sites of historical and paranormal interest, and we landed on television more than once. We appeared on the Ricky Lake show (https://www.tvguide.com/tvshows/the-ricki-lake-show/episode-38-season-1/a-ricki-halloween/381207/), Ghost Adventures before we formed the group (https://www.travelchannel.com/shows/ghost-adventures/episodes/linda-vista-hospital), we recorded a sizzle reel for our own reality show and were “shopped” to multiple networks, we gave countless interviews, appeared on the local news, landed an article in the Los Angeles Times (https://www.latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/news/tn-cpt-1028-paranormal-20111027-story.html) and other newspapers, and so on and so forth. In other words, we were almost famous.

It was the “almost” that was our near undoing. High hopes for a reality show were dashed. The requests for interviews and television appearances faded, along with the popularity of the entire genre of the paranormal. Teams dissolved all around the state. We stopped meeting at the Queen Mary. With the pandemic, it no longer made sense to get together in enclosed spaces and huddle together seeking spirits. There were other issues, as well: teams are hard to maintain. Establishing common goals and guidelines was difficult; expectations, hopes, and dreams were not always easy to reconcile. And then, of course, there was the thorny issue of the “evidence”. It wasn’t clear that we had convinced anyone about the existence of the afterlife, in spite of the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours we spent reviewing our audio for EVP. We sifted through video, audio, photographs, and documented our impressions and experiences as we all discovered newly acquired clairvoyant and psychic skills. I wrote hundreds of pages about our experiences, presented our data, and waited for the public to be as excited as we were. That rarely, if ever, happened. I used to post our best EVP begging for public commentary, and nobody listened or commented. That used to keep me up at night. My disappointment convinced me to give up. However . . .

Paranormal research is a passion. You don’t engage in it to convince skeptics, to be on television, to make a ton of money, to find fame online, or to rub elbows with the VIP of the paranormal community; but I am proud of what the Paranormal Housewives accomplished, and it was often thrilling and exciting, especially because it seemed that the general public was truly fascinated by what we did. It wasn’t the public that lost interest; the media did. I’m not sure we knew how to recover from that. The truth is, paranormal research of any kind–whether the classic “ghost hunting” version, the traditional seance and medium modality, or the intellectual investigations of the Society for Psychical Research, is often work done alone, without accolades, without fame, without media interest. What I finally understood is this: that is just fine. I don’t care if the general public doesn’t review my ‘data’, or whether or not anyone in the entertainment industry finds my work interesting enough to create a show around. I don’t mind that most of the time, an investigation might simply be three or four people with a shared need to explore the non-material worlds that surround us.

What do I care about? The community of people who find this work fascinating, compelling, and endlessly mysterious. I care about the investigative process, the sifting of data, the interpretation of audio, video, the information from our various devices, and our experiences. I care about our impressions, our feelings, our instincts, as much as I care about the hard evidence; it’s all part of creating a larger picture, a weaving together of different strands of information that leads to conclusions and to truths that are larger than anything the laboratory can prove. I care about research, about our forefathers and mothers who engaged in this work; I care about our history, our collective past, and how we wish to create the future as investigators. This is about the search; our common desire as paranormal researchers to go beyond the superficially obvious and to penetrate the veil. There are far more questions than we have answers for. This journey will take our entire lifetime, and perhaps far more than one.

Now I can introduce the International Society for Paranormal Research. Our mission statement:

The ISPR is an open organization dedicated to investigating and presenting evidence for all aspects of the “paranormal”, including, but not limited to: all manifestations of human consciousness in post-material form; alleged hauntings of homes and sites; poltergeist activity; the work of mediums, psychics, clairvoyants and empaths; anomalous experiences that include UFO activity or any other unusual or unprecedented event, sighting, or manifestation. We are:

  • Open to all amateur and professional investigators who wish to contribute their data and conclusions for review;
  • A forum for investigators and researchers to share their research and data, but also a site for meaningful conversations among investigators regarding methodology, personal experiences, concerns, and questions;
  • International in scope, since we are all interconnected more now than ever, and paranormal phenomena is not restricted to one, particular country;
  • Non profit, with no financial or professional interests that would interfere with our primary mission;
  • Not a ‘team’ of investigators, but may announce investigations and/or invite participants.

Are you interested in working with me on this project? I will announce here the social media sites and the eventual website for the ISPR. Let me know if you have evidence that you would like to share with us. I am excited to get back into the game and start the search again.

As always,

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

A New Philosophy of Life and Death - New Acropolis Library

This year started with death: Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven other people crashed in the hills of the Santa Monica mountains in January of 2020, instantly losing their lives. Then, of course, Covid-19 came along and rapidly escalated the death count for this year, reaching numbers that left us numb; numbers climbing faster now than ever before. I don’t want to list all the people who died this year; it would be impossible, with Covid deaths at nearly 2 million world-wide, and the list of Important People and Celebrities who passed is much longer than most years. And, of course, there was George Floyd; Breonna Taylor; and so many more that shone a light on the sheer brutality of racism in the U.S. Death was the most important character of the year, the player who brutally stole the show and revealed depressing truths about who is dispensable in this country: “essential workers”, who some Americans call “illegals”; black men and women; poor people; the mentally ill; the homeless; and the marginalized of all stripes.

Lest you think that it was just this year that brought death, in 2018 nearly 7500 people died every day in the United States. One person dies in this country every 12 seconds. This year, that might be one person every 10 seconds; or 8; I don’t know. Then this big, nasty fact hits us in the face: we are going to die, and we do not know when, and we do not know how. Obvious, right? Perhaps not so much for the United States, where we like to pretend that we will live forever as attractive, young, powerful individuals who will never experience any serious tragedy. Our cultural narrative around death indoctrinates us that death is a failure, a complete loss of humanity and individuality, and a blow to our collective need to be eternally productive and happy.

Not all deaths are equal. If you are famous, rich, and/or influential, your death is the ultimate catastrophe. If you are struggling to make ends meet, undocumented, or simply invisible to the dominant culture, your death is a blip on the screen. Nobody will notice, and nobody will care outside of your family circle. Death points out inequality like nothing else; in that sense, death paves the way for social transformation. Death serves its purpose in the culture: to shock us into action, to force us to see injustice and inequality where we could or did not before, and to motivate social behaviors designed to protect each other (masks, social distancing).

As odd as it may seem, on a “spiritual” level death and life are not opposites–one does not ‘end’ or negate the other. I learned this living in Granada. It was not just the weight of thousands of years of history and the influence of the Catholic religion, or the fact that you could walk into any church and see saint’s bones carefully placed in a reliquary, but it was a pervasive feeling that death was woven into the everyday experiences of the people and the cultures that they inherited. Death is viewed by Christians and Muslims as a transformative force that leads to another life; there is no permanence in death, and no reason to cower or run in fear from something that is already a part of us. As Julian Scott points out in his review of Thebes,

“Life and death, like all opposites, are simply two sides of the same coin. As J.A. Livraga says in his book Thebes, in reality there is “only One Life, which glides along on its two feet, life and death.” Sometimes life is manifest, visible. At other times it is unmanifest, invisible. A tangible image of this in Nature is the tree. During summer it is full of leaves, flowers and fruits; in winter, it is bare of all those attributes and appears to be dead; but we know from experience that it will come to life again in spring.

So with the human being: we are born, we grow and appear to die. But perhaps, following natural law, we do not really die. Perhaps our consciousness merely transfers to an inner plane, remains in that state for a ‘winter’ period and then returns to life in a new spring. This teaching of an abiding soul which incarnates and ‘dis-incarnates’ myriads of times in search of experience and perfection is virtually universal. It is not confined to Eastern philosophy, but was also held by Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus and many others in the West.” (https://library.acropolis.org/a-new-philosophy-of-life-and-death-2/)

I started this post with death as a wake-up call for societies in crisis, but I wish to conclude it with the thought that physical death leads to more life as a natural consequence of the belief–shared nearly universally–that the body is the vehicle of the soul, and as such, physical existence is not to be revered or held onto with terror and fear. As with everything in nature, life is a cycle that repeats, renews, and transforms–endlessly. As such, you will experience yourself as an eternal self in a myriad of ways. This is an affirmation that comes with scientific backing, but more than that, it comes with millennia of human experience and knowledge. Our Enlightenment heritage in the West is responsible for our cultural beliefs that the body is the sum of our existence, and we die completely in the absence of the material. However, this belief is unique in human history–in no other culture or time period did most people think this way. Materialism has not explained consciousness, so it cannot, therefore, render an opinion on our existence beyond the body.

More from Julian Scott:

“The foundation of this new philosophy would be that we give priority to spirit over matter and see the body as the vehicle of the soul. As a result, the purpose of life would not simply be to live as long as possible in the maximum state of comfort, but to make sure the soul has the experiences it needs in order to perfect itself.

There is a natural tendency in the mortal personality to avoid risk and stay within its comfort zone. The new philosophy of life would imply living life to the full – not in the sense of indulging all our desires, but in the sense of doing whatever it takes to express our soul-nature in this world, realizing our potential, contributing to society and living with joy. It implies a philosophy of risk, not foolhardiness, but going beyond our comfort zone in order to expand the limits of our being to the infinite.

A new philosophy of death would be based on a natural understanding of death as the portal to a different level of reality, which many ancient cultures called the ‘world of the gods’. Not to be afraid of that invisible and – to all accounts – ‘higher’  dimension, but also to accept it and look forward to it joyfully, in the same way that we look forward to tomorrow with optimism and serenity, even if we don’t know exactly what tomorrow will bring. But we do know that it will bring opportunities and experiences.”

Those who succumbed to Covid, to police brutality, or to tragic accidents, reveal something about ourselves, our culture, our beliefs and our priorities; we may not like what is exposed. But on an individual level, death did not end the glorious possibilities for Breonna, or George, or the many, many, people who gave up their lives to a virus. All of us soldier on and will wake from that slumber we call death prepared to face another day.

It is my understanding–and this is material for a different post–that the afterlife, reincarnation, and multiple dimensions of personal existence, happen at once. Awareness chooses an experience and sticks with it, but all other aspects of us are available to our understanding if we want to truly understand. Most of us don’t want to know how the clock works, preferring to simply know what time it is. Come with me if you want to explore more deeply.

In love, friendship, and health,

Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

Why We Are Sad

Sacred sadness Photograph by Stephanie Johnson

If you love an addict or an alcoholic, you probably struggle with sadness. Maybe your sadness has spiraled into depression, or anxiety, or some combination of emotions that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope. If so, I feel your pain. I have an alcoholic in my extended family, and she breaks my heart. She has broken my heart for so long, that I can’t remember what it feels like to be comfortable, happy, and at peace with her.

The people we grow up with–parents, grandparents, close family friends, aunts and uncles, whoever they might be–are tasked with this role: take care of the kids. We all expected this from the people who spent the most time with us, the ones who accepted the responsibility. When you grow up with an alcoholic or an addict, you learn the hard way that those expectations were simply not realistic. The Responsible Ones couldn’t be responsible. The Caretakers could not be caring. The Adults simply could not behave in the world as grown ups. So many of us ended up with big, angry, traumatized children raising us, or helping to raise us. What does that do to the adult child of the alcoholic?

If you’re in Al-Anon, then you’ve memorized the Laundry List. I won’t go over that here. Instead, I want to talk about a particular way I was affected. I was not the kid who acted out and got into trouble; I was the one who tried to be perfect; the high achiever, the ‘beyond-all-reproach’ child who thought that if she was very, very, good, then the Adults would not ignore her, get wasted and terrify her, insult her, or make her feel like deep down, she wasn’t as great as everyone thought she was. Not as smart, not as pretty, not as competent, not as good as she believed herself to be. Of course, children–even adult children–are vulnerable to those messages. Even though we KNOW that the source of all this negativity and criticism, all this neglect and contempt, is a traumatized, addicted adult who cannot manage their emotions, we still feel like we did something wrong, or, that there is something we can do right to change this situation, even if the ‘situation’ has been rolling on for decades.

The Perfect Child dies hard. We engage in twisted thinking on such a deep level that we don’t always see it. For example, the Good Kid decides that she will save everyone she can, as a way to compensate for the fact that nobody saved her. We start Community Service groups, attend churches (in my case, far too many), we donate, recycle, sponsor kids in Venezuela, adopt strays, and most of all, we try to save the alcoholics from themselves and each other. There is nothing wrong, and everything right, with selfless acts meant to honestly help others; but, we sacrifice too much of our souls for others’ benefit; we fall prey to magical thinking. We think that our selfless acts, our constant vigilance, our dedication to buffering each other from pain and grief, will somehow save us from our creeping and constant depression. In fact, that depression is created by the belief that we can make the world safe for the suffering; that we can save ourselves from what already happened by falling on our sword for the addicts in our lives.

I used to imagine all the negative consequences of not washing out a bottle of ranch and placing it in the recycle bin. If I simply threw it away, I envisioned poisoning a pile of trash, killing birds, ruining the planet, and being directly responsible for global warming. It doesn’t make sense to write it down. If I didn’t call my addict every day, I saw her falling apart, destroyed by my lack of caring, creating havoc for others in the household, and ultimately falling to her death in an alcoholic stupor because I neglected her. I created rituals around “saving” people, plants, animals, you name it. It was my job to make sure everything was right with the world. It was up to me to keep my pumpkin vine from succumbing to the rabbits (I failed) and to make sure each and every student I worked with was happy, fulfilled, and following their dreams (I really failed). If someone was being hunted by ICE, it was up to me to do something to stop it (I failed).

I failed so often–even in the role as Parent, where I was going to be perfect to make up for my imperfect upbringing–that I spiraled into some pretty intense self loathing. But I learned something. Something important. I can’t save anyone. I can’t save plants, people, the planet, or the most vulnerable. By trying to save everyone and everything else, I was really trying to save myself, because I felt unloved, neglected, and invisible. It did not work, because to save yourself, you have to understand that you CANNOT SAVE OTHERS.

You can help others; you can offer your love, your support, your financial assistance, your spiritual guidance, your affection, and your friendship. But you cannot save anyone; not your parents; not your kids, not your partner; not anyone. And that’s OK. You’re not a bad person when you finally give up on that impossible quest. You can continue to help. THAT IS ENOUGH. And sometimes, your help is not wanted. That is OK. Sometimes, your help will be rejected. That is OK. Keep trying, but don’t think you can save the world.

Jesus came to save the world, and guess what? He left us with the instruction to “work out your own salvation”. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, (Philippians 2:12). I’m not a preacher nor a Jesus freak, but hey, if the Man himself tells us to work out our own salvation, then perhaps we should listen.

Adult children of alcoholics and addicts believe that if we could simply change the nature of evil, eradicate the pain and suffering of others, then we will stop hurting so much. We hurt as deeply as we do because we overestimate our powers to change what we have no control over; the truth is, those that hurt us were not thinking about us. They were playing out their particular psycho drama, and we walked into their line of fire. We were innocent victims of damaged people. It was never about us; it was always about them. Knowing that, we can start the process of letting go of our unwitting abusers; they knew not what they were doing. Once we let them go, we can let go of our need to please, impress, and most of all, save. If our mistreatment was never about anything we said or did, then what happened to us was not our fault. They did not, could not, save us from their addiction. The trick is to understand that we were always already saved by a power far greater than our parents, our caretakers, our families. We were not taken care of those tasked with that job; but it’s over. We survived.

We can leave the heavy lifting to the Universe, and allow ourselves to simply live; to be happy; to love each other. Salvation exists; but it doesn’t hurt. Salvation is unchaining ourselves from guilt and sadness and having the courage to embrace all of reality with joy.