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Posts Tagged ‘afterlife’

It’s instructive to look at what a culture believes and completely deconstruct it. I find that we are lied to by the dominant culture on a regular basis; social media, media in general, all the images and words that we process in infinite doses teach us a version of reality which, I suspect, is skewed at best and completely false at worst.

One of the biggest assumptions that we carry around with us concerns the afterlife. You are taught to fall into two camps: the ‘scientist,’ who believes there is no rational basis for a belief in the continuation of consciousness, or the ‘believer’ who is either following a religious doctrine based on faith and ancient scripture or the ‘New Ager’ who has dragged the consciousness raising, flower power philosophies of the 1960s and 1970s into the present day. In the latter cases, you are considered by academics, intellectuals and amateur, ghost hunting ‘scientists’ nominally following a method, to be gullible or simply ignorant.

Is the choice really a scriptural ‘Heaven’, total obliteration or some fuzzy ‘white light’ scenario where you are kindly judged by a benevolent God who gently leads you into a non-denominational paradise where your loved ones await you? Do any of these versions make sense of the life you are living? For me, these are not real alternatives but fantasies generated by tradition or desire. I see things quite differently. For one, I tend to think that Heaven and Hell were always meant to be allegorical, describing a state of mind rather than a state of being ‘somewhere else.’ We create Hell on Earth on a regular basis. In fact, it is relatively easy to find Hell if you listen to the news or frequent social media sites. As you navigate the photos of starving children, abused and beaten dogs and melting ice populated with dying polar bears, it seems that God took off a long time ago.

Unless Hell is right here, right now. Why are some of us in Hell when others are so close to Heaven? I don’t know. Maybe God is watching to see what we do. Do we ignore evil in all of its forms? Do we make an attempt, no matter how seemingly futile, to provide comfort and aid?

If Hell is here, surely Heaven is, too. We know that when we hold our child or sleep surrounded by our devoted pets or when we simply contemplate the stunning beauty of nature. Both Hell and Heaven are states of mind that lead to states of being. We can visit both places whenever we want. Sometimes, you can visit Hell simply with one, destructive, pernicious thought. The opposite applies, too.

The Afterlife is not After. It is right here, right now, all of the time. Death, that big, scary concept that keeps us all running in a million directions attempting to evade or outwit it, is a minimal experience that has deluded us all. I remember death. I revisit past deaths in dreams. I have a repeating dream where I realize that I am about to die, and I experience all the terror of the death, usually the one where a giant wave sweeps me out to sea and drowns me. The fascinating aspect of those dreams is that after I die, I realize that I didn’t die. There is this huge sense of relief of having endured the physical death only to come out of it as alive, or more so, that I was before. The second life is completely devoid of fear. I realize that death is an experience, but not a final reality. When I realize this in these repeated dreams, I also feel that I wasted most of my life fearing something that didn’t change anything about me at all.

Piecing together dreams and memories of before I was born, it seems that we ‘wake up’ to a very similar reality with exactly the same identity and personality blueprint. The circumstances are different. But I am the same. Or, as Ortega y Gasset put it, “Yo soy yo y mis circunstancias” (I am myself and my circumstances). I find this to be the most succinct and perfect way of understanding identity. You have always been, and always will be, you; only your backdrop changes. The fact that I can’t explain how this works–whether this is reincarnation, transmigration of souls, or something else–does not invalidate it. There are some things you know on the deepest level of your soul, at the level of your basic humanity, in the blueprint that God (or Spirit) created and that you spend lifetimes attempting to figure out.

There is this deeper reality that invalidates death. I think we all know that it’s there, like a memory that we intuit but can’t capture, an experience we had but can’t put into words. It’s that feeling when you walk down a street you have never seen in this life, yet you can predict every landmark around the bend. It’s when you know something before it happens. It is also when time seems to be the strangest illusion of all, always appearing to move forward, even as you float in a matrix of eternity.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD/PHW

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Bowie Major Tom

Bowie Heroes

Bowie Blackstar

It’s been a tough few weeks, everyone. The death, violence, and general depravity creeping into our collective consciousness has wormed into my head and left me so exhausted and drained that the days are turning into one, long, sad experience of loss. The end of the year feels like the end of many things: my innocence, my childhood, my hope for the future. When things start looking bleak, I always turn to Bowie, for some odd reason. I couldn’t figure it out until recently. It’s about my history, and what his history means to me. Of course, it’s not about the man himself; I don’t know him, and I am old enough to realize that everything I say here is pure projection and self analysis. So here goes . . .

When I was 15, I watched Bowie sing “Space Oddity” on some variety show. I was terrified and overwhelmed by what I felt. When the camera zoomed in on his mismatched eyes, I felt something crack and shift in my psyche. It was the beginning of something dangerous, unknown and utterly mysterious. One could say it was the beginning of my realization that sexuality existed and was a powerful, uncontrollable force. I think, however, that it was beyond that: it was the sense that there is something completely outside of my understanding lurking beneath the surface of things. I sensed that in the song, and in the image of the man himself, strumming the guitar and not blinking. Not once.

When “Heroes” came out, it was about my dawning cynicism. I understood the song to be about a culture without role models, without mentors, without guides and of course, without heroes. It matched my disengagement with politics, my rebellion against anyone and any institution with authority. It spoke to my general need to hate my culture, which sent me straight to Socialist Spain, where I spend many nights in dark clubs berating America and pretending that I wasn’t a product of my own country. My rebellious poses were so, very, very American, after all.

Then I hit 50 and have been dealing with the resultant crisis, which as upended my world completely. I always knew how to take advantage of my youth. I understood it was a powerful ally in my culture. To be young and pretty was to possess something my elders had forever lost, and I knew it was my only weapon against them. I was Bowie’s “pretty thing”, driving my mother and father insane. Even in my 40s, it was possible to ‘pass’, to still be seen as precocious, to pretend, in other words. But 50 has shattered those illusions and forced me to realize that even if I could pull off the face and body of youth, it doesn’t change my age. A friend told me a couple of years back that I could fool people with my face, but my eyes gave me away. “You are old in the depth of your eyes” she said, and I suppose that’s true. There’s no hiding it.

Then Bowie comes along with “Blackstar,” and he teaches me something again, just like he did when I was 15. As he holds up the pseudo “Blackstar” bible, he makes no attempt to look young or hip. In fact, he is deliberately exposing you to an aged face, just to see how you’re going to react. Will you turn away, disgusted that he committed the sin of reaching 68 years? Or, will you reach the level of confusion that he inspired in 1980? For me, it was almost the same experience I had before: a paradigm shifting awareness that there was something mysterious and powerful behind the surface that was capable of destroying everything I thought I understood about myself. Bowie’s face, so relentlessly public, dares the viewer to reassess what age signifies. What I saw in that face in 1980 has not changed at all; in fact, it’s intensified. It’s not the face itself, it’s what’s behind it, what it hints at, what it both reveals and disguises.

I won’t tell you what that mystery is, because it’s supposed to remain a cipher, only partially understandable but infinitely strange. It is what invalidates our notion that our little lives are all that there is, that our understanding of the world and ourselves is somehow accurate. No, we know very little about the world, about life and death, about love and sex, about the ultimate meaning of our tiny spark of existence on this planet. The fifteen year old and the fifty year old are one and the same, separated only by experiences, but not by essence. That epiphany has, once again, forever changed how I see myself and all those other mysterious beings with whom I share my experiences.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD/PHW

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Maria marin

I was listening to “Maria Marin Live” (forgive the lack of accents; not sure how to add them here!) on AM 1020, as is my custom after my last class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She pulls no punches and forces her callers to be direct, honest and sincere. Woe betide you if you can’t make your point or you’re full of B.S.; she will call you on it. I’m not sure how many of my readers listen to talk radio in Spanish, but I recommend you listen to what she has to say if you understand Spanish.

The topic of one of her recent shows concerned life after death, or more specifically, what her callers believe happens after death. There were those who had the quick answer, “you go to Heaven to be with God,” but when pressed on the details, became utterly incapable of providing any realistic descriptions or scenarios. Others, of course, said that nothing happens; and the majority stumbled around attempting to answer the question without the Heaven or the nothingness explanation, only to find themselves impaled on their own uncertainty. Ms. Marin did not provide them an easy out; she pressed them relentlessly to answer the question in a specific and meaningful way. When they couldn’t do it, she moved on to the next person.

I found myself in something of a panic, imagining that I was one of her callers and I had been pressured into answering the question. Even though this topic is my area of research and interest, there is NO WAY to spit out a quick answer to the question, ‘what happens after you die’. I realize that those who have had a near death experience might be able to answer this with the typical imagery: the tunnel, the white light, meeting relatives who have passed on, the life review, the inability to cross a certain boundary between life and death, and the final (usually unwanted) return to the body. However, this describes a transitional state between life in the flesh and the life of consciousness, not what happens after actual, physical death.

No one can answer definitively, since no one has died 100% in the flesh and returned to talk about it except Jesus, and well, there are some issues there, as well. My experience tells me that while there is no quick answer to the question, there is–at least–a concept that we can hold onto when forced to answer questions about life after death. In terms of scientific research, nowhere is there better evidence for the continuation of life than in the work of the late Dr. Ian Stevenson from the University of Virginia. His work on the past lives of children from around the world is legendary; I’ve discussed it extensively in other blog posts. What his work points to is that ‘life’ after ‘death’ is about the transference of consciousness from one body to another.

The best evidence points to the indestructibility of the conscious mind, spirit or soul (I do not think that these terms are interchangeable, but the differences between them are the subject of another post). It doesn’t disappear, but finds another body through which it expresses a self. How this happens is pure speculation, but it must happen at some point in fetal development. I remember my sister telling me–and she is nothing if not a skeptic–that she felt the precise moment when a spirit ‘jumped into’ my nephew while in the womb. He was pure potential and suddenly became a personality. This personality was, in his case, external to him and perhaps had nothing to do with our family and genetics at all.

Consciousness finds a way to continue, whether it be through reincarnation or through some other mechanism, such as inhabiting another dimension or alternate universe as posited by some quantum theories. One of these alternate dimensions of reality might look and feel much like the Heaven that the faithful expect to experience. Many Eastern religions posit the twin existence of soul and spirit, each living out separate existences as the same personality: the “spirit” continues to reincarnate with limited or absent memories of the previous existence, and the “soul” inhabits a timeless dimension where the expected rewards and/or punishments are experienced as expected. Some quantum theories posit that there are infinite versions of us in infinite universes, so that when one of us dies in one world, we simply skip over to another and pick up our lives there, either in the ‘present’ moment or a past or future moment.

It doesn’t work to think of time as important to consciousness after death, since it is a biological concept useful to understand what we perceive as forward movement towards a goal, but it is not an independent entity necessary to understand reality (at least as far physics is concerned–time could just as easily move backwards as forwards, and we only need the ‘arrow of time’ for formulas concerning entropy, which some physicists think doesn’t exist as an independent measure of anything, anyway). You can see why, by now, there is no way to answer Maria Marin’s challenge in a one-minute phone call. When you are discussing issues concerning consciousness–that great mystery–it doesn’t make sense to explain exactly what will happen, since that requires us to know exactly how our minds will perceive reality when we are no longer dependent on a brain or a body to filter and limit our experiences.

Since Ms. Marin requires total honesty, I will say this: I am afraid that the best evidence points to a recycling of consciousness that does not involve karma, reward, Heaven or eternal rest. It seems that our personalities are transferred to another human being, and we drag our baggage along into another life–whether in the form of unconscious trauma or conscious memories. I do think there is room for spiritual evolution from life to life, but that is not the same concept as karma or reward. Our suffering in one life might purify us and lead us closer to God, but it certainly doesn’t mean our next lives will be easy, fun, interesting or rewarding. The most spiritually evolved person might appear to have the worst material circumstances.

For what it’s worth, that’s my answer to Ms. Marin, if I had called in. We come back, again and again, working towards a nobler, more refined relationship with God. What that looks like for each individual is unknown. So, I take my last breath, I might have a transitional period where I’m in the Light and meet up with those long gone, and then I probably black out or go to sleep and wake up screaming, inhaling that first breath again, remembering or not that I was here before, and here I go again.

Yours on the journey,

Kitty Soul bank Post

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

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afterlife4

The images for this post were taken at random from a Google search for ‘afterlife’ and ‘reincarnation’. They are revealing insofar as they represent visually our belief systems.

George Anderson has my respect and my admiration for the work that he does; he is probably the world’s greatest living medium. I read his book We Don’t Die and expected to feel tremendous excitement about the life of perfect peace that awaits me after death. No matter how inspirational and lovely his vision of the afterlife appears, I simply can’t believe everything is so perfect and luminous, not only because I have a different approach to survival of consciousness, but because the world he describes is foreign and frightening to a human who defines herself through struggle and spiritual engagement that is often painful.

I read constantly, every day, the research on and related to the survival topic. I believe this is necessary for a writer on this subject to be taken seriously. However, in the end, what I study must match my intuitive experience of life and consciousness for it to become incorporated into my understanding of how life works. I have rejected the theory that consciousness is a result of brain processes not only because no one has proven it to be true, but because it doesn’t match my experience of conscious awareness and memory.

I think that we need to return to our experiences as children to answer our questions, or we need to incorporate them into our overall life philosophy along with the research. When I return to my childhood understanding of life and death, I realize that as I child I understood intuitively the realities that I am now attempting to both remember and recreate. The glorious visions of the afterlife that many religions and some mediums promote as our final destination do not make sense with my childhood wisdom. The afterlife is not static, consistently positive and life-affirming, free of negativity or an eternal resting place for the weary soul. I doubt that it looks much different from the current reality you and I are living.

afterlife3

As a society (Western, in general), we do not take children seriously. With a few notable exceptions, such as Dr. Ian Stevenson’s work with children who remember past lives, we ignore what children say, remember, and how they experience death and rebirth. What I remember and what most children I know experience is nothing like Mr. Anderson’s trouble-free afterlife. In fact, although I don’t dispute that there could be a comforting zone between lives, much of what we experience before and after this life is fairly mundane and occasionally, terribly painful. If we truly listened to our children as they recount scenes from a life already lived, we would learn more about life than through the reading of countless books. To read and absorb information is one thing, but to watch reincarnation in action in your own child is an existential awakening like no other.

afterlife6

The following is a brief list of what children know that adults ignore, suppress or ridicule:

1: The living creature doesn’t die with the body.

When I was a child, I remember knowing that a dead body had no identity as the person or pet that I had loved. The first death that I recall was that of my rat, Sir Bell. Sir Bell died, as rats are wont to do, after a few months with us. I saw his body one morning, and I knew that Sir Bell had left. The stiff little carcass in the rat house was not my pet. Yes, I was sad, because I couldn’t hold, pet or play with him anymore, but not because Sir Bell had died in his body, but because my rat didn’t HAVE a body anymore. I knew the difference completely, at age four.

Even though my parents desperately attempted to keep me away from death (probably because I had had several brushes with death myself by age 5), I managed to glimpse it anyway. More recently, when we lost Kenny the Sphinx, I had a similar experience that reminded me of my long-ago lost pets. Kenny was the most adored feline on the planet, and when he succumbed to heart disease in July of 2010, I was terrified of seeing his body. I suppose that I had forgotten the earlier lessons of childhood; but when I did see what was left of him, it was immediately, instinctively apparent to me that Kenny was not in that cold cat body. He simply was NOT there; that didn’t mean that he wasn’t ANYWHERE, but that I was looking at lifeless flesh, not Kenny.  On many occasions, our other cats will play and chase Kenny around the house. Their behavior is clearly, for anyone who understands cat behavior—playful, and they are playing with Kenny where he used to hang out.

Can I prove that my two living cats are playing with the spirit of Kenny? Of course I can’t; but over two and a half years of watching this behavior, I am very comfortable affirming that Nod and Bingo are playing with the Kenny without the body.  Every time I saw the dead body of an animal as a child, I knew without anyone telling me that the spirit of that creature no longer resided in that flesh. I could not have explained where the spirit went, or even what a spirit was; but I knew that my pets were not alive only in my head or in my memories of them. My sadness and frustration was about not being able to find them, not about losing them forever. This was in contradiction to what my parents taught me about death. They maintained that we—everything that we are, including anything like a soul, in addition to our consciousness—dissolved into the earth recycled itself through another life cycle. My parents were not religious; there was no afterlife for them. They also did not expand their spirituality to include survival of a spirit.

What I knew was intrinsic to me, learned through experiences I could not consciously recall.

afterlife 1

2: You don’t have to stay with your body all of the time. You can leave and come back.

As I have written about before on soulbank, I left my body during surgery when I was five years old. I was up near the ceiling and saw, quite contrary to my wishes, that I had a mask over my face. Before this surgery, a nurse asked if I wanted the needle or the mask to put me to sleep. I had been adamant that I wanted no mask over my face. She had agreed. The nurse had lied to me. I don’t remember anger over this, but I was planning on bringing this up later. I experienced no internal contradiction over the fact that I was two places at once. I knew that the little girl on the table was me, but the ‘real’ me was up near the ceiling; of that there was no doubt. To this day, the strongest lesson from that experience was the fact that my identity and consciousness were in no way connected to that body on the table.  I was not afraid of that fact, nor anxious in any way about the fate of the girl below. I was safe up on the ceiling and very calm.

Later, I did bring up the mask issue to my doctor, to the nurses, to anyone who would listen. Beyond a few strange looks, they never addressed my concerns. In fact, everything I said to anyone regarding that incident was written off as a hallucination. After that incident, I would occasionally glimpse people and images that others couldn’t see, as if I had been granted temporary access to another world. Every single time I attempted to explain who I was seeing, I was told that I had an overly active imagination, that I was prone to fantasy, or that I was getting sick. Sometimes, the adults would accuse me of manipulating reality for my own entertainment, or as an aggressive game that no one else could play. I learned to shut up whenever I saw, felt, heard or experienced anything out of the ordinary. What a sad lesson.

afterlife5

3: Most adults and most of your peers will think you’re crazy or odd if you say anything about perceiving animals or people who supposedly aren’t there.

The adjective that everyone used to describe me—both family members and friends—was “weird”. That epithet clung to me like a dark cloud. I could never shake the accusations that I “made stuff up,” “lived in a fantasy world,” “created reality,” or “had a vivid imagination.” Every single time I attempted to communicate how I saw the world, I was shot down. If I felt that a passed relative or friend had communicated with me, I was told that I was engaging in wish fulfillment. Unless you have lived through this yourself, you can’t know how painful it is to see the world differently and be told that you are stupid, crazy or deluded.

Much of what was leveled at me was based in fear and ignorance. My memories of a past life were so vivid that much of my behavior as a young child was driven by them. To this day, I have phobias and behaviors that are traceable to a past life. At this point, I don’t care if I can “prove” that to anyone; it’s simply a part of my reality that I have to accept, just as I have to accept my experiences as a child, a teen and an adult as part of who I am. There is no difference. I certainly didn’t choose to be involved in drugs and prostitution as an ideal past incarnation, but we don’t always get to choose, or maybe we never do; in any case, I remember—I will always remember—the shame and sadness of that life, a life that I have spent 47 years attempting to reconcile with my current life. Anyone who tells me that past lives don’t exist has not spent her entire life attempting to overcome the last one. I don’t care what the scientists say, or the academics, or the average Joe: my evidence for reincarnation is, quite simply, who I am.

afterlife7

4: Children come into the world with baggage.

Genetics and heredity do not explain what most parents experience with their children: they come into the world with complex emotions, inexplicable behaviors, preferences, personalities and desires that often confound and confuse their bewildered parents. Almost every parent would say that their child was unique in ways that were not explicable by random combinations of genes. No one has been able to prove that what makes us who we are in terms of personality, memories, identity, sense of self, values, beliefs, attitudes or ideas can be reduced to genetic codes. Where is the code for an intense fear of substance abuse in a four year old?

When I first looked into my nephew’s eyes, I saw a world weariness and a sadness that was centuries old. This was not the infant as blank slate, which was in fact what I was expecting before I looked into his eyes. What I saw, what my sister saw, was a soul that had already lived many times before, and was back for another round. We used to joke that he cried so intensely and with such emotional pain because he couldn’t believe he was a baby again, that he was ‘back’ again. It really isn’t a joke; not to those of us who still remember the long-ago struggles of our lives. It’s easy to laugh, but what is more heart-wrenching than seeing your baby and your toddler struggle with traumas that you had no hand in creating and can’t fix?

So: when mediums write about the afterlife as glorious and trouble free, or when religion paints Heaven as a place of eternal repose and joy, forgive me for remaining skeptical. My experience tells me that life is one, giant recycle bin where consciousness expresses itself over and over again in different bodies. It’s common and constant. We think it’s such a big deal to be born or to die, but consciousness neither comes into being nor goes out; it simply changes venue.

This is neither comforting nor upsetting to me. It just is. Even though I welcome struggle and transcendence, I certainly do not welcome the ugly realities of inhabiting a body that is riddled with disease or addictions. I don’t look forward to a life whose pains and pleasures I cannot predict or even understand right now. Maybe there is a ‘life between lives’ that is pure bliss, but I don’t remember experiencing it. Eastern religions teach that eventually, the cycle of birth and death is overcome and Nirvana awaits; for me, that is wishful thinking. There are infinite lives, in infinite time periods, in infinite circumstances, that one can move through. There is no ‘before’ or ‘after’ when you are discussing consciousness and identity, so ‘coming from’ Heaven or ‘returning to’ Heaven is a meaningless concept.

Listen to your children when they tell you stories of who they were ‘before’. Attentive parents understand the difference between children’s creative fantasy play and real memories. They are essentially different modes of expression. If you are struggling with this as a parent, please go here: http://www.childpastlives.org/

If you are struggling with this issue as an adult, well, that’s the point. It’s all part of your journey.

soniathorpe.com

soniathorpe.com

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I created a persona awhile back named “Ms. Kitty”. She existed then and continues to exist now as a guide and mentor for teenagers. I work with teens all day long and am the parent of one, as well. Although Ms. Kitty was created for teens, she also speaks to adults. The reason I decided to post something my alter ego wrote was simply because she speaks to the soul. We all have an ongoing consciousness that will continue on after our current incarnation has ended. My goal and my hope for those I love is that we are all engaged in a spiritual evolution that will lead us to the next life. Our job in the here and now is to learn how to speak the truth without fear, love without barriers, fix what is broken in us, and reach out and heal the wounds of others in our human community. If we can do that well in this life, the next one will not wound us nearly as profoundly. We come into the world destined to experience pain; but the purpose of pain is to teach, not cripple. I try to tell teenagers that their suffering is real, but not defining or permanent. There is resolution to all unhappiness through action and “reperception;” sometimes, a simple realignment of our perspective and thoughts can create a complete breakthrough in our emotions. Although for most teens their emotions become their reality and identity, they (and we) can learn to change that and see emotions as a temporary result of often misguided thoughts and perceptions. We can, and do, change our reality day by day; choose to see the solutions and they will present themselves as if by magic.

Ms. Kitty hopes that you will find some wisdom in what she says, even if you think the Teenagers’ Dilemmas don’t apply to you.

Dear Ms. Kitty,

I think I have an eating disorder. What do I do?

First and foremost, see your doctor and tell your parents.

Here are my thoughts on the matter: an eating disorder is a form of self-punishment and expresses a need for control. It is also about denying emotions that are painful and somehow unacceptable, especially anger. Starving, binging, alternating between the two, even cutting yourself or using drugs and/or alcohol are different heads on the same monster.

What is the monster? Overwhelming feelings that demand to be understood and acknowledged, but are, instead, ignored. Anger is a big part of the problem: women are taught, usually by example, that expressing anger is unacceptable. However, anger is a natural emotion, and inevitably situations arise that rouse your anger: your friends betray or reject you; your parents have expectations of you that you don’t feel you can manage or achieve; you want yourself to be perfect, to please everyone, and you can’t; you try to ‘save’ a friend from destructive behaviors, and he/she refuses to listen to you; and the list can go on and on.

Imagine how difficult it could be to confront friends who have hurt you and say, “I am angry with you for ignoring me, for making me feel insecure and unhappy, for not being there when I needed you the most”. That’s hard to do. You risk upset and more rejection. Imagine saying to your parents, “I know you want me to be a straight-A student and go to a prestigious college back East, but I can barely manage to survive school every day, much less plan my entire academic future”. You risk facing their disappointment or possible disapproval; or worse, you might end up arguing with them about the ‘reality’ of what you know you feel. Imagine having to admit to yourself that you have let people down, that you are so imperfect that you have hurt others without meaning to. It’s a risk confessing your own imperfection, your inability to be who they want or need you to be, and your fear that they will reject you if you don’t manage to be the person that they expect. Finally, imagine having to admit to yourself that someone you loved, someone you tried to save from her/himself is beyond your help. Admitting that you cannot save someone who you love is difficult, sad and frustrating. You might even feel angry towards this person, and then immediately feel guilty for feeling angry.

So what do you do instead of facing all of these challenges head on? You create a distraction, a way for your mind to focus on something that you can control. Once you realize that you can’t control anyone else, and that your anger about that fact is unacceptable to those who love you, you skip lunch instead and go hungry. That will hurt those who love you, and hurt you: perfect for someone who can’t directly express her anger or other strong emotion, or who doesn’t want to face a painful situation head-on. Or, you can eat three bags of chips, get sick, barf, and start over. You will be so preoccupied with your particular cycle that you won’t have time or energy to deal openly with the people and situations that hurt you. You could also cut yourself, and substitute physical pain and injury for emotional pain and injury. You might opt to take drugs or get drunk, thereby temporarily numbing your anger and pain. There are probably many other ways you could accomplish the task of distraction: stuff your feelings with food until you are obese and physically ill; gamble until you’ve lost your savings; have sex with multiple partners to ensure no one, single person ever really gets close to you; or even decide that you are going to lose yourself in work so that you never see the people that you say you love. 

The monster has many, many heads. We can cycle between self-destructive behaviors, but don’t get distracted by what creates the distraction in the first place. Understand WHY you are running from your emotions. If you’re afraid of your own anger, realize that you must find the truth in order to help yourself, and that sometimes, you have to get angry in a useful and intelligent way in order to get to the bottom of things. Perhaps an example from my own life will help you to see what I mean. Ms. Kitty has trouble still expressing her anger. She thinks that if she gets mad, the people she loves will reject her. That’s not a rational thought, but that’s what her ‘fear body’ has fooled her into thinking. Ms. Kitty was wandering the aisles of a Halloween store with her husband looking at the ridiculous costumes that they sell to adult women. One picture showed a woman with impossibly skinny and long legs wearing a maid’s outfit. Ms. Kitty wondered if she was expected to dress up like this for Halloween. Her husband laughed and said, “You don’t have the legs for it.”

After that, I refused to wear skirts and only wore jeans. I also convinced myself that I needed to stay at a certain weight, or my husband would find someone else. For years, I didn’t buy skirts or wear them, always remembering that “I didn’t have the legs for it.” Also, more importantly, I was furious that my husband would make such a remark and force me to stay at an unreasonable weight and not wear what I wanted to. Secretly, I feared he was intolerant and too focused on looks, and I wondered if our relationship could last if that were the case. Pondering that caused me to panic, thinking I was about to be abandoned. That, in turn, sent me to the gym in the quest to make my legs good enough for a skirt. Finally, one day, my husband asked me why I never wore a skirt. I told him the story I just told you. He was horrified. “That’s not what I meant!” he cried, “the legs on that model were freakish and Photo shopped! NOBODY HAS THE LEGS THAT SHE DOES!! I NEVER wanted you to look like that!” I think he cried when he finally understood why he never saw my legs.

I had changed my wardrobe, worked out my legs until my knees ached and occasionally skipped meals (although, to be honest, Ms. Kitty loves to eat, so she would usually make up for a skipped meal later with a bag of stuffed jalapeños) so that I would ‘have the legs’ to wear a skirt. More importantly, I re-defined myself as someone with ‘bad legs’ all due to a remark that I had MISUNDERSTOOD. If had expressed my anger at the time it was appropriate to express it, if I had said: “What do you mean I don’t have the legs for this skirt? That’s rude and cruel; how DARE you tell me something like that?” my husband would have immediately corrected my misperception, and I would have been spared years of insecurity about my body.

Now, imagine that the consequences are much bigger than hiding your legs. Let’s say that you tell your friends something very important about you, you confide a secret to them, and they betray you by telling someone else or by not supporting you. That’s much worse than a misinterpreted remark. You have the right to be angry; very angry. You must confront those who hurt you, and tell them why you feel the way you do. You must do this in an intelligent fashion; no need to be aggressive or nasty. You must tell them the truth and let them ponder it. Once the truth is out, there is no need to create a monster for yourself; there is no need to cut, starve, binge, barf, pierce everything, avoid everyone or gamble your life savings. The truth creates freedom, because you shift the burden of your emotions from you to the people who need to feel what you feel, because they, in part, have created the crisis. Sometimes people are utterly clueless that they have created a crisis or hurt you; your job is to let them know, sometimes gently, sometimes with force. If those people don’t want to understand or react poorly, then walk away and consider yourself fortunate that toxic friends or family are out of your life for awhile. If they can face their part in your pain, then maybe you can let them back in. If they can’t, turn the other cheek, don’t hate or turn on yourself, and find that community of people that will not judge, criticize, label or ignore you. Those people are everywhere. You are more loved, by the way, than you probably fully understand or realize.

Every time you face the truth and feel the appropriate emotion for the situations you find yourself in, you will slay the monsters of self destruction. Those monsters only turn on you, because you are not turning to the people who can help and turning away from the people that hurt. Sometimes, the truth can make other people uncomfortable. Well, that’s just too bad. We all have to face reality and come to terms with the fantasies we create in order to protect us. Adults have to realize that we create more subtle monsters, such as losing ourselves in an obsession that we call a hobby, or becoming zombies in front of the television or computer. We’re afraid of the world out there and of the power of our own emotions and thoughts. The world out there will find a way in, and our emotions will find a way out; let’s make sure that we’re healthy enough to handle both.

And, by the way, I bought a bunch of skirts. I discovered that I don’t really like skirts, because I like to sit in unladylike positions. I NEVER skip a meal unless I have the flu, and I go to the gym only to stay reasonably strong. I have the legs and the guts to take care of myself, and maybe help you, dear reader, as well.

–Ms. Kitty

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Contrary to the title of this picture, I will not discuss what the Bible says about the Devil. I will, however, tell you what my subconscious mind says about him, or her, as the case may be. It was 3:00 AM, and I was not fully asleep when a vision took over my mind. It was not a dream; it had none of the bizarre, disjointed features of a dream. It was a lucid presentation of an event–just how to classify such an event is beyond my skills to describe. Suffice to say that I saw an old, old woman–revealed to be 96 years old, the age of my death as foretold by a gypsy–who approached me, smiling. I was happy to see her at first, until I realized that there was something terribly wrong with this old lady. She grinned at me, up close, and I saw a mouthful of rotten teeth as the stench of her breath hit my face. “I am the Devil,” she hissed, and then lifted her arm and attacked me with a pitchfork, stabbing me again and again in my side.

I knew she had come to take me away, and I was terrified. The vision faded, and I forced myself to fully return to my normal, conscious state. My first thought was: I can’t go out ghost hunting anymore. Pursuing phantoms in the dead of night is messing with my head. My second thought was: I am possessed, or about to be, and I’m scared that I might end up committed at a place quite similar to the one I investigate on a regular basis. Thank God such asylums are not longer legal . . . my third thought: GET THEE TO A YOGA CLASS at the crack of dawn. So away I went, early in the morning, to a yoga class that included a meditation that seemed designed for me and my particular needs (i.e., escaping the Devil). We were instructed to sit across from an image of the Divine and he/she directed a beam of light to explode the dark kernels of fear and bad karma that we had accumulated. Those dark seeds turned to ashes and were blown away by the divine wind of love and unconditional acceptance. All the corners had been illuminated, and I need not fear. I was crying like a child by the end of that meditation, and most importantly, I no longer felt as if the Devil were trying to take my soul.

Ghost hunters are a hardy bunch. We stare death in the face and record what is left over. We listen to hours of audio that might include something we don’t want to hear, and don’t wish to invade our lives. We don’t know what responds to us late at night in the old mental hospital, but we’re OK with that. Most of the time. The last time I was at Cam, Louis captured an EVP that could be life changing–yet again. At the time we heard nothing but the insane, incessant banging of the pipes with their attendant odd after-effects that sometimes seem to carry the voices into the atmosphere. I don’t remember exactly what Louis said, something like “do you remember me?” and the response that we heard, huddled around his digital audio recorder in a courtyard, was: “Is that all you want?” No, it was not vague or distorted; yes, we ALL heard it, and Ty (my husband) verified on video that none of us was talking at the time. It was so clear that we could all identify the words quite easily, without headphones or any audio enhancement programs. The voice was . . . tired, and slightly metallic, and perhaps a little sarcastic. He, whoever this was responding to us, wherever he might be–did not believe that all we wanted was an answer to our usual, repetitive questions. Of course we ask the same things over and over, because we are not engaged in a real conversation–we don’t hear the response until hours, days, or weeks later. The voice appeared to know something that even we do not–no, that is not all we want, we want so much more than to know whether or not you recognize us, or know us, or even what you think about our activities in these hideous hallways . . . we want to know more . . . we want to know if you are really the soul of a dead man, and if so, where the hell are you that you can talk to us, why in the name of all that’s holy are you still at Camarillo, what kind of afterlife is that, and the scariest question of all–is there no Heaven? Because if there’s a Heaven, then why are YOU, whatever you are, STILL HERE, inhabiting one of the worst places on Earth?

If a little girl’s spirit can find itself trapped in a place like this, then what is going to happen to me? What if I happen to die somewhere that I really don’t wish to, such as a hospital or a crappy hospice center somewhere in South Dakota? What about reincarnation? I thought we had a choice. Some of my sappier, New Age tomes on the afterlife talk about the fields of flowers and the Being of Diving Love who reunites us with all the people we loved and who loved us, and it’s one, big party until we have to decide whether or not to move on to Higher Spiritual Realms or choose another life to live on Earth. It’s all good, right?

No, it’s not all good. Sometimes, it’s sad, tragic, upsetting, scary and a touch evil. We don’t know shit about the afterlife, really. Of course, if you are devoutly religious, then you DO know, and I admire your faith and divine knowledge–I mean that sincerely–but if you are unlucky enough to not feel that kind of faith to the marrow of your bones, you go out searching for your own answers.

Sometimes you get laughter and humor.

Sometimes you get confusion and sadness.

Sometimes you get the Devil, and he tries to take your soul.

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Today is Nana’s birthday. She would have been 92 years old today. She died in January, 1999, when she was only 80. There was a time when 80 would have seemed a venerable age; now, with my 70-year-old parents, 80 is not old. It certainly doesn’t seem like the right age to die.

I have tried to hang on to her in various ways over the years. I expected her to visit me in dreams; she did not. I hoped that she would appear at the end of my bed; she never did. I figured that with all the ghost hunting and spirit chasing, she might decide to make contact; my expectations came to nothing. I have talked about her jewelry box before, exclaiming how her perfume is extra strong when I think about her and talk to her—but someone pointed out that the old scent simply accumulates over time when the box is closed, so there’s no mystery there. The more often I open it, the less perfume escapes. I even went so far as to use the IOvilus to attempt to make contact with her—all to no avail.

I swallowed my doubts and consulted a medium in Idyllwild, waiting anxiously for a meaningful message. All she told me was that Nana was completely confused by her death, not expecting it, and felt utterly lost when she passed over. That was not comforting. That did not prove nor disprove anything, but left me with a certain sadness for my grandmother, who never seemed very happy in life, and– if I were to believe the medium–was now lost and overwhelmed by death.

I really did expect, over the last 11 years, that Nana might come back in some form to comfort me, or simply to remind me that she’s still around. The fact that—besides some interesting dreams of other family members—Nana appears to be truly gone, scares me and raises some old specters (pardon the metaphor). I became involved in the paranormal because I wanted to explain to myself, if no one else, why I experienced contact with some people (such as Grandpa Joe) and not others. The person I most wanted to connect with was simply not there. We all fear oblivion, some of us more than others, especially because it turns our lives into hourglasses, a waiting room for death. I don’t believe that nothing remains of us after we pass over—anyone reading soulbank knows that—but I am at a total loss when it comes to understanding the data and making sense of my experience.

The voices I capture during EVP sessions and the messages I get in various ways (IOvilus, mediums, psychics, dreams, etc.) do not point to a coherent picture of the afterlife. In fact, it often seems that messages are fragmented, strange, purposefully cryptic or simply bizarre. Of course, if you look for spirits in places like Camarillo, what do you expect? Even so, it appears to me that what we “capture” are more like echoes and memories than actual lives. Is there a place after death where our identities and memories remain intact? Do we really continue to evolve? To we return to life in a new body? Does it matter that we progress spiritually, or does the same fate await us all?

I just finished a fascinating book by David Kessler: Visions, Trips and Crowded Rooms. Apparently, medical personnel (especially nurses and hospice workers) are well aware of the visions their patients experience before death. Many of them are greeted by their deceased loved ones; so many loved ones, in fact, that it’s a common to hear the dying make reference to how crowded the room is. It is all but proven that these visions are not hallucinations,  side effects of drugs or oxygen deprivation. Exactly what is happening is a mystery, of course. Most doctors refuse to believe that what their patients see and experience is “real”; this calls into question the very notion of “real”. If the dying insist that their loved ones are REALLY, TRULY in the room, then who are we to say that they are not? Kessler makes an interesting point in one of his chapters: legally, the words of the dying are given special status in courts of law. In other words, the declarations of the dying are given MORE weight than those who are not actively dying.

If we believe what so many patients report, we certainly do not die alone, and there is a “place”—God knows where (literally)—where everyone we ever loved continues to exist. This seems impossible and fantastic, a true wish-fulfillment fantasy . . . but that doesn’t make it untrue. I wonder, sometimes, if my attempts to call on Nana are somehow forbidden by certain laws of which I am unaware. Perhaps contacting me is the last thing on her list of goals in the afterlife. She knows already that she’ll see me in 51 years (an old gypsy told me I would live until the age of 96), which to her might seem like five minutes. Time, so they say, is irrelevant after death.

But I miss her. I miss her so much that sometimes I simply cannot resist the temptation to see if maybe she will say hello, or tell me that she loved me, or just reassure me that she is fine and even happy. Maybe she would contact me if she knew how sad I am without any grandparents. Maybe she will . . . if I try hard enough.

If she doesn’t, then I still have her little jewelry box with the perfume and my memories; but both are starting to fade with time, and that hurts more than anything.

If you are out there and can read this, I love you Nana. I miss you. I will keep trying to find you. I don’t know what else to do.

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