Posts Tagged ‘survival “survival of consciousness” “life after death” consciousness ghosts spirits death life’

I don’t need to talk about viruses, the Stock Market, the mortality rates, our general unpreparedness, the global recession, or the statistics regarding who is more likely to get infected, get sick, or die. You have all been inundated by virus news for days, and it will continue for weeks. I want to talk about something else: reality and our fear of the truth.

From the day we are born, the day we are conceived, we sign a contract with death. Everything that takes material form will die. We will all die, and all of our loved ones will die; it’s not a matter of if, but when, and how. When I choose to get up in the morning and drive on Los Angeles freeways, I take the risk that I may not make it to my destination or back home. After three car accidents in six months (one was my responsibility; the other two happened when the driver behind me was distracted by their phone and slammed into my stopped car), I am very aware–hyper aware–that every trip out might be my last.

I have survived multiple surgeries, countless infections, accidents, and random ‘conditions’. I am aware that I might not survive the Corona virus, and my parents might not, either. I understand that if we all survive this virus, another might come along that is far worse. Or, my father could be hit by a car while riding his bicycle down Edwards Hill. My mother might fall again, and this time not miss the curb by millimeters. Your life, your existence, is under threat every second of every day of your life.

It is our nature as human beings to do everything possible to stay alive. It is our imperative as species. I will take all the Coronovirus precautions, just as I wear my seat belt, drive the speed limit, and go to the doctor when my breathing is labored or a cut looks like it’s becoming infected. I walk on the side of the road and carry an electrified walking stick to ward off packs of coyotes and mountain lions in the hills by my house. I don’t climb trees anymore, and I always wash my hands. I don’t wear slippery shoes in the rain or climb rocks in sandals. When I saw a rattlesnake right in front of me a few weeks ago, I slowly backed away instead of trying to pick it up. And yet, for all these precautions, for all the ways in which I try to maximize my survival in the world, I know that the rattlesnake might strike; the car might be crumpled into a metal ball in spite of my seat belt and law-abiding speed; the mountain lion that crossed the road in front of me could decide, the next time, to grab my throat; the next infection might kill me if my body doesn’t react to the strongest of antibiotics; the fall could happen, even wearing my hiking boots. And, I might pick up Coronavirus and be one of the unlucky few whose respiratory system can’t fight it off. I might die on a respirator in a foreign hospital.

We don’t like to think about these basic truths, so we cover them up with distractions: social media, Internet browsing and information hoarding, shopping for things we don’t need, preparing for the Apocalypse, eating, searching out soulmates or sex partners, drinking, taking pills, or watching hours of mindless television. There are as many ways to distract ourselves as there are ways to die. Counting ways to die or calculating our personal risk of death from the latest virus is another distraction.

Our time on Earth is limited. Some of us have only hours or moments to live; others, many decades. The final destination is always the same, however, and most of us will not be ready for it. For all the focus on how we could die in this latest crisis–from the illness itself, or as a result of the economic collapse that is just as horrifyingly spectacular–we don’t talk about how we are supposed to live. And oh, how I wish that I could tell you how to live. But I cannot. I can only tell you how I try to live.

A professional in the mental health field noticed that I was someone out of place in terms of my culture, and that I have a rather interesting ability to forecast coming events of large, social significance. I have certain psychic abilities that are a direct result of a high level of sensitivity. My ‘problems’ might stem from seeing things differently and sensing realities that are not clear and obvious to others. The result is, I tend to live in places we call the ‘past’ and the ‘future’ even more than the average soul. And, there is precious little cultural or social support for someone like me, who lives with the anxiety of what is to come. I am either ridiculed or ignored when I attempt to share how I perceive reality. But I have learned a couple of things along the way that might be useful to others.

Even if you sense the future, you cannot live there. The more that you try to predict exactly what is going to happen, the worse you will feel. You can make informed decisions in the present moment; but the present moment is the only absolute reality. We can make predictions based on the best available information, and we can adjust our behavior accordingly. However: the essential fact is, we cannot live anywhere but where we are right now. The present moment is always, by its very nature, easier to manage than attempting to live in the future and control outcomes. Living in the present moment means accepting what you do not know and what you cannot control.

If that upsets you because you need to know now, you need to control the outcome now, and you must understand all the consequences of all possible actions right now, you will suffer.

That suffering is the enemy of health. It is unnecessary. Tracking daily deaths from the Coronavirus or any other pathogen lurking out there is pointless on an individual level; if you work at the CDC or are an infectious disease specialist, then yes, you need to know. For the rest of us, counting bodies and serious illnesses and watching the Dow Jones Industrial Average as it rises and falls (and falls, and falls) is a recipe for severe anxiety. Decisions that we make while under the influence of severe anxiety are not likely to be wise or caring.

Let me repeat that: decisions that you make while panicking will not be considered, wise, or compassionate. Knee-jerk reactions to fear will place a greater burden on your friends, family, and community. Worst case scenarios are fictions until they actually play out. Yes, go ahead, plan for the worst-case scenario, but don’t live there. Don’t behave as if we are there already. When the media started talking about a 500 year drought in California, I was sick over that possibility for months. That was a worst case scenario that did not happen. This time, of course, there is wisdom in preparing for the worst; however, watch out for your mental health if you act as if a hypothetical future were already here, happening to you right now.

Our minds can destroy us if we allow it; our sensitivities, whether they manifest as a ‘disorder’ or as an ability to see clearly what is coming, or to peer into other worlds or dimensions, can either be a gift or a curse. No matter what you think you know about the future of humanity, trust me, you can’t know everything. You can’t know what you can’t see or understand. Everyone has blind spots; I can often see the emotional fallout of a future event, but I don’t know how that event is going to unfold.

Our lives are marked and defined by uncertainty, chaos, unpredictability, and a lack of control. Effective action for ourselves and others depends on whether we see that as a curse or as offering us the limitless potential of absolute freedom. Freedom requires we lose the fear of death. Prepare to live, but do not fear death. This is where your beliefs, your understandings, will determine your mental health. Do you know that your material life is only part of the equation? Do you know that life continues in a different form? Or do you believe that this material existence, filled with dread and fear, is the best that we can hope for? Your answer to this will depend on your experiences. Or, perhaps your answer comes from faith.

One way or the other, make friends with Death. For that is the only doorway to another life, another understanding, another opportunity for renewal and redemption.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

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Death popped into my inbox recently and into my life. Someone wrote to me about losing his father to Alzheimer’s, wondering how–if the brain does not produce consciousness–his loved one could have been so completely lost to the world. Around the same time, I lost my cat Nod. Nod was family. She helped me raise my daughter. We had her for 12.5 years, and she was the soul of the house. My husband stayed with her while the vet injected her with a lethal cocktail. I ran away and cried hysterically in the parking lot. What do Nod’s death and the loss of my reader’s father have in common? One, fundamental, question: where is my loved one now?

Here was my response to his question:

“First of all, my sincere condolences on your loss. Our family lost someone recently, so I understand the tremendous pain and confusion. 
My grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and I have had multiple surgeries where my consciousness was altered by anesthesia. So, I understand how vital this question is. My grandmother had moments where a different level of awareness would operate, even in the worst of her disease. Suddenly, the light would go on, and she was ‘back’—of course, nothing about her diseased brain had changed; yet, she would go ‘online’, as if plugged in to an entirely different level of consciousness. There were no medical explanations for this. In my own case, of course anesthesia would knock out my everyday, operating consciousness. However, on more than one occasion, I became aware of myself on the operating table and was able to ‘see’ what the surgeons were doing to me. Once, I saw myself with my eyes closed and a mask on my face, even though I had made the anesthesiologist promise me that no mask would be used during surgery (the very idea terrified me). I remember confronting the shocked doctors about that fact. There was no way that I could have known what they were doing via ‘ordinary’ consciousness.
So, there are different mediators for consciousness. This higher awareness is like the generator kicking in when the electricity fails. Another common metaphor is the television set or the radio—if the machine is damaged, the signal is scrambled or lost, but the signal does not cease to exist. The brain interprets, filters, and modulates consciousness, but it does not create it. There are many (countless, really) examples of the brain being “offline” and conscious awareness finding another way to make sense of one’s surroundings and circumstances. The lucidity in one’s dying moments that so many nurses and family members report (and I have witnessed) is not due to a sudden recovery of the brain, but to a higher consciousness going online, a switching over to another system.
Another example are people with traumatic brain injury who are still able to execute functions that biology would tell you are impossible. I had a friend who had half of her brain removed and lost no significant function—nobody could explain her complete lack of disability given the catastrophic injury she had sustained. There were experiments with mice where so much brain was removed that they should have been utterly non functional, and yet they ran mazes based on memory that should not have been there at all if memory was stored in the brain.
So, your father is still conscious, but at a far greater level than he was before. Exactly how this works or what form we take is still part of the great mystery; but everything points to the same conclusion: consciousness is not dependent on or created by our brain. I hope that is of some comfort to you during this difficult time.”

Even if one fully accepts that consciousness continues on, there is nothing that erases the physical pain of losing your loved one. After deaths in my own family, I would feel the loss as actual pain in my body. It would affect my stomach, my back muscles, my energy levels, my ability to sleep, my concentration, and show up as depression and fear. Loss of the physical presence of your loved one is brutal. There is nothing that erases that, not even knowing that their consciousness continues, because we don’t know HOW their consciousness continues; my kitty can’t sleep on my chest anymore, and my reader can’t talk to his father anymore.

Sometimes, the signs that our loved ones leave for us can create even more pain and confusion. Nod has appeared in many, many, ways; she has jumped up on the bed and walked up to me; but when I reach for her, there is nothing but air. She can’t appear in her physical form. It’s as if she were both here and not here; exists and doesn’t, in equal measure. In that sense, she is like Schrodinger’s cat, both alive and dead at the same time. I have felt that acutely since her passing, as I did when my grandmother passed away and when my two friends from Wisconsin killed themselves. They, too, left tantalizing evidence that their energy was still active in the world, but I could not talk to them or reach out to them. If they decided to come to me, they did; but when they decided not to, the loss and emptiness was overwhelming.

A few things are clear from my experiences with the ‘transitioned’ states of my loved ones: I cannot force contact, I cannot predict it, and I cannot control the form that it will take. Contact does not respond to or respect my fantasies, desires, and needs. It happens when it happens, and each time someone makes the effort to reach out to me, I try to respond with gratitude and grace. Lately, however, I’ve been stuck in depression over the magnitude of the losses. Like my reader, I wonder how it is that it is possible for consciousness to continue in the way that I have observed. It feels like energy and memory, sparking reactions and effects in the physical world. And yet, it also serves to remind me that so much of what makes this life meaningful is the sheer physicality of it, the warmth of a hug, the sensation of petting your kitty as she sleeps on your chest, the electricity of a kiss, the joy of shared laughter. I want to use all my five senses to reconnect with my grandmother, my cat, my friends–and yet, I am asked by the Universe to redefine my senses in order to make contact. I am asked to connect on a far more subtle level, one that requires energy, concentration, meditation, and an intense ability to observe and tune in.

This refinement of the senses in order to contact one’s loved ones is not simple, because it can be clouded by grief and depression. It is hard to focus on the signals when you are wracked by sadness and overwhelmed by loss. For all of you who know exactly what I am talking about, let me make one thing very clear: the essence of who our loved ones are, their essential pattern of energy, their personality, does not disappear. However, in order to appreciate it, we can’t be in a state of denial, deep despair, anger, or resentment. We have to accept the physical losses and the radical change in the nature of the relationship. Once we have accepted the loss and let go of the need to hang onto to form, we can clear a channel for communication.

I feel for all of you who have endured a loss. It’s a long process to come to terms with our own emotions. Grief can overwhelm the body and the mind with such force that we wonder if we will ever feel ‘normal’ again. We will. It takes time, patience, and abundant love. I have felt the love and concern of my loved ones from beyond this world. They want to know if I am OK. Well, not yet; but I will be. Death tends to bring up every trauma that we have suffered through, every death to which we had to adjust. It is soul work, and it hurts.

But I will do the work, because love is stronger than any force in the universe. It is from that love that we take these forms in the first place, and it is to that love we will return.

—Kirsten A. Thorne


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Welcome to my first, bilingual post for those who read Spanish. In this post, I will endeavor to explain why the statement “I don’t believe in ghosts” doesn’t mean what people think it does.

Bienvenidos a mi primer ‘post’ en español. Hoy pienso explicar por qué la afirmación “no creo en los fantasmas” no significa lo que muchos piensan.

Language is the first barrier to mutual comprehension. The word ‘ghost’ is a loaded term; it conjures images from movies, faked photos, and horror novels. The word carries so much cultural baggage that it’s time to let it go, and talk about what I really mean when I use the term ‘ghost’. A ‘ghost’ refers to a remaining or persisting aspect of a once material being; some energetic or perceptual imprint that implies a consciousness has continued to function without a material form.

El lenguaje es la primera barrera a la comprensión mutua. La palabra ‘fantasma’ es un término cargado; conjura imágenes de las películas, fotos falseadas, y novelas de terror. La palabra conlleva tantas asunciones y estereotipos culturales que ya es hora de abandonarla o reconstruirla. Pero, no se puede evitar su uso en la comunicación diaria, así que vamos a entenderla de esta forma: Un ‘fantasma’ se refiere a un aspecto persistente de un ser otrora material, algún patrón energético o perceptual que implica que una consciencia ha continuado funcionando sin forma física.

Now, let’s talk about what we mean by ‘belief’: The word ‘belief’ has strong religious overtones; it requires ‘faith’ as a correlate. When people say they do not ‘believe’ in ‘ghosts’, what they are saying is that they do not have faith in the existence of wispy, ghostly forms of once living people. I would agree with that statement. No investigator of the paranormal who takes herself seriously would ask that someone have faith or ‘believe’ in something without evidence for it. So, I never ask for faith or belief, but for a sincere desire to investigate the evidence that human consciousness survives bodily death. There is abundant evidence in favor of that hypothesis, and that is what this web site is about: presenting all the evidence that most people are unaware exists.

Ahora, hablemos de lo que queremos decir por ‘creencia’: la palabra ‘creencia’ tiene fuertes tintes religiosos; requiere e implica la fe. Cuando la gente afirma que no ‘cree’ en fantasmas, lo que está diciendo de verdad es que no tiene fe en la existencia de formas cuasi transparentes de personas antes vivas y ahora suspendidas entre el ser y el no ser. Estoy de acuerdo con que no creo en fantasmas, si así los definimos. Ningún investigador de lo paranormal pediría que alguien tuviera fe o creencia en algo sin que haya evidencia a su favor. Así que nunca pido que alguien tenga tal fe o creencia, sino que expresen un sincero interés de investigar la evidencia de que la consciencia humana sobreviva la muerte del cuerpo. Hay evidencia abundante y rigorosa que apoya tal hipótesis, y de eso se trata este blog: presentar la evidencia que tanta gente ni sabe que existe.

So no, I do not ask nor wish for you to ‘believe’ in anything that does not make sense to you after a careful weighing of the evidence in favor of a hypothesis. Instead of saying, “I do not believe in ghosts”, my hope is that you will say, “after carefully considering the evidence for and against the survival of human consciousness, I think X is true”. Notice that the conclusions you might come to are less important that the willingness to consider what you might think now is impossible. For many things were considered to be impossible until the day when the weight of the evidence changed the point of view of the collective cultural beliefs. When we make statements about what we do not believe in, that too, is a statement of faith without evidence.

No, no deseo que creas en nada que no tenga sentido para ti después de una cuidadosa examinación de la evidencia a favor de una hipótesis. En vez de decir, “no creo en los fantasmas”, mi esperanza es que digas “después de estudiar cuidadosamente la evidencia a favor y en contra para la continuación de la consciencia humana después de la muerte física, he llegado a la conclusión que X representa la verdad”. Nota que las conclusiones a las que finalmente llegas (si es que llegas a tal punto final de tus consideraciones), es menos importante que la buena voluntad de ponderar lo que ahora te pueda parecer imposible. Muchas cosas se consideraban imposibles hasta el día cuando el peso de la evidencia cambió para siempre el punto de vista de las creencias culturales populares de una época. Cuando hacemos declaraciones acerca de lo que no creemos, eso también es una aserción que depende de la fe sin evidencia.

–Kirsten A. Thorne

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Oh, how I hate reading articles like this one by Steven Pinker (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1580394-1,00.html). Not because they threaten my poor,  all-too-human hope that life continues after death, or we are more than the meat in our brains, but because such articles decide A PRIORI, with no in-depth research into survival of consciousness and no knowledge of the work that was done in this area beginning in the 1800’s with the Society of Psychical Research and continuing today, decide that all studies suggesting survival are flawed, rife with fraud, or impossible because we ALL KNOW, deep down, in our rational minds, that the soul is a silly, primitive fantasy of the undereducated masses and religious zealots. Consider this quote:

“Whatever the solutions to the Easy and Hard problems turn out to be, few scientists doubt that they will locate consciousness in the activity of the brain. For many nonscientists, this is a terrifying prospect. Not only does it strangle the hope that we might survive the death of our bodies, but it also seems to undermine the notion that we are free agents responsible for our choices–not just in this lifetime but also in a life to come. ”

First of all, the idea that only scientists can understand consciousness–or, better said, only neuroscientists–is an elitist assumption by a privileged few. Yes, it’s obvious that neuroscientists are in the best position to understand the workings of the brain, but the assumption that eventually we’ll be able to explain all conscious experience as a function of chemicals and transmitters is NOT JUSTIFIED and not scientific. Declaring that “eventually we’ll solve this problem” is not proof of anything. It is no different from me affirming that “eventually I will be able to prove the existence of the soul, just wait it out and trust me”.

Explaining how the brain works and how its perceptions can be altered by disease, injury, drugs or other factors does not mean that consciousness itself has been “located” in the brain. The article itself uses the analogy of radio transmitters and devices that receive waves: “They [certain brain waves] may bind the activity in far-flung regions (one for color, another for shape, a third for motion) into a coherent conscious experience, a bit like radio transmitters and receivers tuned to the same frequency.” But why must the radios and receivers tuned to the same frequency be necessary IN the brain or a function of the brain? A great deal of work has been done in the field of consciousness studies that suggest that consciousness is EXTERIOR to the brain–you can call this bank or field where consciousness (and perhaps memory) is stored whatever you wish–the fact remains that in order to explain the mysteries of consciousness, you have to look at the brain as the receiver, and the signals it receives as the originator and generator of consciousness. That explains ESP; remote viewing; telepathy; clairvoyance; verifiable after death experiences (see the works of Dr. Brian Weiss) and NDEs; communication with the “dead”; mediumship of all kinds; and all anomalous transfer of information. To simply declare that ALL of the above is either false or fraudulent reflects a lazy, uncritical mind unwilling to do the necessary homework to make such claims.

It is fashionable in academic circles to refute all such work in the “paranormal”, declaring it–in a paternalistic, Freudian manner–a reflection of our collective survival fantasies and equating it with religion or superstition. There is nothing more insulting than this paternalism to those scientists, philosophers, doctors, and so many others who dedicated their lives to unraveling the mysteries of consciousness. Many undertook the journey because the evidence forced them to; many started as skeptics and ended up believing what was obvious enough to shake the very foundations of their prior understanding of life and death. I have lived my entire adult life among academic super-skeptics, who will not even consider the evidence readily available for anyone to consider. There is not one text or experiment that will “prove” survival, but taken as a whole, the information garnered over the last 150 years or so leads the intelligent and thoughtful scholar to the serious consideration of survival of consciousness. However, a great many academics will automatically and instinctively reject ANYTHING that suggests the existence of a soul or an afterlife since it seems unseemly, a product of the religious lower classes that cling to fantasies in order to explain their existence. Academia is elitist in the extreme, always suspicious of any knowledge that it did not create or generate. Academics inhabit a closed system that  often doesn’t play by its own rules, since “knowledge” is their domain, and it is a power game: he who defines reality owns the keys to the kingdom.

The race to define reality as originating in the brain has as much to do with prestige and power as it does with seeking the truth. If science can deny the validity of human experience and declare that we can know nothing about ourselves and that free will is a fantasy, then a select few control the very notion of humanity. There is nothing “scientific” about that; it’s demagoguery and absolutism based on theories that have not yet been proven, and probably never will be. Science is not headed towards proving the location of memory and consciousness–yet, by telling the rest of us that they inevitably will, a chosen few are attempting to control our identity, our experience, and the vast amount of data that leads towards the opposite conclusion–our brains are excellent receivers of memories, information, emotions and experiences that exist SOMEWHERE ELSE. There is abundant evidence for that assertion, and although I won’t pretend to define the location of consciousness–no one can claim to do that–I will say that I trust our human experience. I believe in the validity of our collective observations and deductions regarding the existence and nature of the soul, our contact with those who have died, our continuing awareness after bodily death, and the individual consciousness that is interpreted through our bodies, but is not dependent on it.

Think, I ask, about what it means to equate science and logic with one view of how the brain works. Think about the assumption that those who disagree are illogical, unscientific, superstitious, fantasy driven, undereducated zealots. It’s a profoundly insulting characterization that is simply false. Those who propagate such unflattering propaganda need to do their homework and delve into the so-called “paranormal” research that is strongly suggestive of survival of consciousness. Most of all, however, those men of science who claim to own the truth or will figure it out “given enough time and resources” need some perspective on their own biases and prejudices. That distortion in and of itself is enough to cast serious doubt on the validity and objectivity of their conclusions.

To see the other side of the issue, please take a look at Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary’s The Spiritual Brain – Neuroscience of Consciousness. For some sense of the furious and impolite debate that rages on in this field, read the Amazon.com reviews of the book and the intense emotions that those reviews generate. That in itself is fascinating and worthy of study.

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The following observations from Jacqueline Lichtenberg fascinate me:

“As I see our “reality,” humans are an integral part of the physical universe. Humans have free will, the freedom to choose our course through life. A natal chart limits your options, of course, but it also provides unique new options. We craft our life through free will choices – choices make a difference. But no matter what course we choose, we are on a journey toward soul maturation, toward wisdom.

Thus while I love a good alternate universe story, based either on the theory that there are either exactly eleven alternate universes or on an infinite number, I can’t see how alternate universes work in terms of soul growth from experiencing the consequences of choices and actions.

That is, if at every point of choice in your life you actually make all possible choices, generating a plethora of alternate universes – are you splitting your soul? Generating new souls? How does one soul learn if there are no definite consequences of choices, i.e. all choices get chosen?

In such alternate universes, you may meet alternate versions of yourself – or “you” might be dead, or never born. So what of your soul?

Vertical time travel, forward or backward, likewise poses me philosophical problems, but has more room to combine reincarnation with time travel. Perhaps you go back to teach yourself a lesson, or pay the price for misbehavior, or rescue a soul-mate, or even to change history to fix your current life.

Which brings us back to the problem of alternate universes – if you travel back in time, every decision you make back then splits off more alternate universes. How can a soul learn anything in all the confusion?”

Jacqueline Lichtenberg (http://www.simegen.com/reviews/rereadablebooks/columns/0207.html)

Ah, such a good question. I think the underlying assumption of so many books on survival of consciousness, analyses of religious traditions, and the observations of  “New Age” philosophies is that our soul is destined, or somehow intended, to “progress”.  The concept of karma depends on the notion that questionable past behavior, misdeeds, unkindness, or cruelty of any kind will result in judgement and retribution in a future life. Most of what I have read on Near Death Experiences involves a stage where the soul must face his/her “life review” and confront the pain that he/she has caused others. There are entire books dictated from the “Other Side” where this process is revealed, and a multitude of authors in diverse fields of specialization seem to be in agreement that your actions in this life determine your future life, either on earth or in some nebulous “in-between” state.

I am profoundly uncomfortable with that assertion. If it is true that those who suffer in this life are simply working out bad karma, then we could reassure ourselves that when disaster strikes in Haiti, there is a cosmic purpose to it all, and the dead and dying are working out their debts from previous lifetimes–therefore, we don’t have to feel guilty or compelled to try to help, since this is all pre-ordained and pre-determined by forces greater than ourselves. Who are we to interfere with the justice of the Universe? On the other hand, I suppose, one could argue that if we don’t help or extend ourselves, we are damaging our own karma. The next time around, it might be us desperately clinging to life after a catastrophic natural disaster.

The problem with the entire concept of karma is that there is really no evidence for it. The late Dr. Ian Stephenson and Dr. Jim Tucker from the Division of Personality Studies at the University of Virginia carried out–and Dr. Tucker is still active in this area–the most extensive research into reincarnation anyone has ever attempted. Their findings after decades of research in multiple countries, do NOT support the notion of karma. There is no connection between one’s fortunes in a past life and one’s current situation. In other words, when this issue is studied in-depth, the entire idea that we progress spiritually over time is called into question. While the concept of cosmic justice is very appealing to us all, we have to base that belief on faith, since the evidence shows otherwise.

This brings me to a second common assumption: we have free will, and we can choose when, how, and why to act. Therefore, we can control our destiny. Recently I read a fact that floored me in Dr. John Turner’s Medicine, Miracles, and Manifestations: A Doctor’s Journey Through the Worlds of Divine Intervention, Near-Death Experiences and Universal Energy, which leads me to believe that perhaps there is no such thing as free will. Brain and consciousness research have demonstrated that our brains decide to act fractions of seconds BEFORE we are consciously aware that the decision has been made. In other words, the brain is actively plotting out our next moves before the action occurs, before we can initiate the behavior or the action, and certainly before we are aware of having made a choice to act. For Dr. John L. Turner, a neurosurgeon, consciousness has not been demonstrated to exist within the brain–he believes it comes from without, not within, and his conclusion is upsetting: our decisions are pre-programmed. Free will, as we are consciously aware of it, does not exist.

So far, we have evidence for two theories: karma does not actually exist, and we do not possess free will. To these, I will add a third from Ms. Lichtenberg’s quote above: quantum mechanics postulates the existence of multiverses, where various versions of “us” exist in different states of being. We are split into various levels–or dimensions, or fields–of existence based upon choices we make. If every decision splits us into sub-categories of universes, then there are infinite numbers of us out there, following different tracks. What does that mean for free will? If we are free to make any decision we wish, but that decision creates a division and a new reality for the person who made said decision, then we have countless versions of “us” evolving differently. How can those other versions possess anything like a soul or an identity? There can be no “original” of us, since this process of undifferentiated splitting has been going on continuously since we came into existence, or since we were able to make decisions–which begs the question, how do we define the term, and at what point in our development were we capable of consciously “making a decision”?

I have my issues with the “multiverse” theory in quantum mechanics, but let’s allow that it could be true. If we are not held accountable for our actions in another life, then what happens to us after death is fairly random or determined by human decisions regarding such mundane issues as a desire for revenge, a need to continue a relationship with a particular person, an obsession with a place or family member, or some secret motivation that has nothing to do with progression towards the Divine. Now, if it’s true that the brain is somehow receiving signals from an outside source (non-local consciousness) and that we are not aware of the programming but simply following the Plan (from whence, I wonder, does this pre-programmed Plan come?), then we do NOT make free choices, but follow a script that was already written for us. Who or what wrote that script is beyond my capacity to theorize. If we are blindly following a pre-written Plan, then we do NOT control our destiny, we cannot assert that we are moving towards soul evolution, and we can only hope that someone or something provided us with a decent template for our lives. Otherwise, we’re just screwed.

Now add to all this the idea that there are multiple versions of us in countless splinter universes, and the belief that we are evolving over time or that we are becoming closer to the Divine is simply untenable. For one thing, there are apparently many of us, without awareness of the future or an ability to control it, and without a system of rewards or punishments for our behavior and actions. What are we left with? I’m not sure, but it’s not Heaven and it’s not Nirvana. It appears to be an endless recycling of consciousness following a track, a plan, or a cycle over which we have no control or input. However, if my decisions split me into different possibilities, then the idea of free will creeps back into the picture. Maybe one particular version of me is a lazy, depressed and narcissistic another version of me is productive, happy and deeply engaged with the world; but that would require the lazy, depressed version of me to make a decision to be otherwise–in which case, am I the living result of a conscious decision that another version of me has made?

OK, so my head hurts now, and I should probably end these speculations. What makes sense to me at this point is that we shouldn’t expect life after life to appear radically different from what we are experiencing now. Reincarnation is not necessarily a moral evolution or a compass that leads us to a better self, or to God. If we experience life as chaotic, random and unjust, we will probably experience the next life in the same way. If we experience this life as purpose filled, divine and awe-inspiring, it makes sense that we would continue to experience life that way. Whether or not we control the blueprint of our existence(s) may not be as important as how we perceive our reality, for our perception of ourselves and our lives will certainly create all the worlds we inhabit down the line, as it determines the content of our world as we are living it now.

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After reading countless books on the survival of consciousness, quantum mechanics and the Fifth Dimension, transpersonal psychology, collected stories from health care workers and surgeons, biographies of forensic pathologists, case histories collected by lay people, doctors who have branched into metaphysics and soul survival, and psychologists who study reincarnation, I am left with a strange confusion and less certainty than I thought I would have at this point in my life.

I started this quest because I wanted to know that there was something else to life than simply living out one’s life span and then disappearing. Honestly, life wouldn’t mean terribly much to me if it ended with nothing. Time is running out for us all, but once we are firmly entrenched in “middle age” (oh, how I hate that term), we acquire a unique perspective on mortality–we now understand intimately that time is not eternal, that we don’t have forever to accomplish our goals or chase our dreams. When I think about Kirsten at 15, I realize that it was 1980–and it doesn’t seem very long ago. 1980 was 29 years ago. If that feels like yesterday, then the next 29 years will fly by and I won’t feel all that different or evolved. I will be 73 years old. The math seems ridiculous, impossible. I always thought that I had all the time in the world, that my death would be unimaginably far off, that I would always feel like I was 15 with an eternity ahead of me. Now, of course, time has become frighteningly finite; there is a sense of urgency now about life’s projects.

The problem is, life’s projects make little sense to me and carry far less meaning if they all culminate in nothingness. The shock of late is the realization that much of what I wanted to do cannot be accomplished in my life span. I watch my parents and others I love and understand that they have not evolved to some new level of enlightenment that makes death somehow acceptable and desired; far from it. We are all still teenagers in aging bodies, as confused now about the point of it all as we were 20, 30, 50 years ago. My elementary mistake as a teenager and young adult was thinking–and truly believing–that everyone undergoes a process of transformation and evolution as they age, preparing them for every stage as it comes; by the time we are actively dying, we would–should–be at such an enlightened state we are ready for death and filled with joy at the prospect of The Transition. This is not true for me or the vast majority of the people I know. Not only are we not evolving into saints or seers, we are often devolving, bec0ming more fearful of death the closer it gets. How is it possible that we are not only the same people we were decades ago, but also reflecting the worst tendencies, beliefs and insecurities of our youth? Not only is it possible, I see it happen all the time, in myself and in others. A note of caution, though: this is a huge generalization and might not apply at all to the person reading this.

That brings me to the multitude of books out there purporting to either prove or suggest that something (what?) survives the death of the body. These texts usually divide into three general tendencies: either they ask you to believe a series of very complelling stories, (these range from highly credible authors working in various health care professions to authors who work as mediums or psychics) or they elaborate complex theories of reality to support the existence of consciousness without a body (the authors that base these conjectures on quantum physics as their theoretical support), OR they take a compelling body of evidence that has been collected through the scientific method of observation and testing and dare to advance a theory on the survival of consiousness (think Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker, working on children’s past life memories). Of all the above categories, the most compelling is the latter. Work of this type has been carried out in the field of parapsychology for over 150 years, yet few people can name any of the founding members of the Society for Psychical Research or know that these men were respected researchers in their disciplines: doctors, scientists and psychologists, to name a few.

I have a compelling reason to WANT TO BELIEVE. Like Fox Mulder, I am biased towards favorable evidence while at the same time realizing that I can’t cast my critical faculties to the ether in search of the Truth. However, even given my particular hopes and biases, I can’t say that I am convinced beyond doubt by any of the books I have read. There are books who promised me that I would come away CONVERTED to the reality of survival, but I am not. I wish I were; I wish more than anything that all the evidence out there had finally and completely handed me the answers I need. What I come away with is not entirely satisfying; after To Die For, I was overwhelmed with theory and underwhelmed with clear connections to survival of the soul. With The End of Materialism by Charles T. Tart, the author’s often-expressed doubts about his own thesis pulled me down into pessimism; with all the books that tell amazing stories about Near Death Experiences and contacts with relatives and loved ones, I am fascinated, but not sure where to go next with my thought process or understanding of the ultimate significance of these stories: are they proof or simply suggestions of something that is ill defined? These accounts are not backed by scientific research or investigation in the vast majority of the cases. I feel as if I were being asked to take these stories as articles of faith. I can’t bring myself to do that. With Raymood Moody’s books on Near Death Experiences (Life After Life is now a classic on the subject), I end up wondering–as he does–what these experiences MEAN. They don’t tell me anything about a separate, objective reality for the soul, nor can he define soul (no one can); therefore, I have more questions than answers at the end of the journey.

The books that stick with me, that affect me at the deepest level and shake up my lingering materialism, are the ones by Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker. The studies of children’s past life memories that Stevenson conducted since the early sixties are as close to convincing proof of soul survival as one is likely to find anywhere. The book Old Souls, based upon a journalist’s travels with Stevenson, is paradigm-breaking reading. It will leave you in awe of the possibilities . . . but those possibilities are disturbing and unclear. The reality of reincarnation is so close to definitively proven by Stenvenson and Tucker that it shatters what we might have assumed about life after death.

Although I plan to write much more on Stevenson and Tucker in future posts, I will say here that nothing compares to the meticulous work that Stevenson carried out for decades. The conclusion? It appears that souls recycle into new bodies on a regular basis. When they do, they arrive intact with their previous personality solidly entrenched in the current body. This is not a happy, wonderful rebirth, but often a painful reliving and retelling of past trauma and abuse. The memories of these “old souls” gradually disappear as the child enters the middle years of childhood, usually around 6 or 7. What this means is that consciousness finds a new home–how often is unknown–but then departs it at a certain point. Is this something like possession? What happens to this separate consciousness when its memories fade? Or, is the child actually an amalgam of two souls who gradually meld into one? Is survival of death only temporary, and reserved for those who suffered a traumatic death? How is the decision made regarding which child to “occupy”? are these children TRULY “old souls,” or new ones attempting to throw off an invader from another lifetime?

This is what keeps me awake at night. My daughter had, apparently, memories from another lifetime which she repeated to certain family members under the right circumstances, but would not elaborate on due to their painful nature. Now, she has no memory of any of this (I will discuss this in a later post as well). The person she apparently was and the person she is now have fully integrated–but what does that mean for the previous personality? If I die and am reborn, what of “me” is left in the new soul? Do I persist, or do I transform my spirit into a new identity? Is there any way to say that this person is still “me”?

Ah, I could go on; but I will stop here and leave you with these introductory statements. I thank you for you patience in reading this if you have come this far. I hope you’ll join me as I continue to push the envelope for what is possible, what is real, what is ephemera, and what is somewhere in between, floating in Spiritualism’s infamous ether.

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