Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Spooky Art of Psychic Development, by Sue Shipley

Is there life after death? There are of course, some people who believe unquestionably in a continuation of the spirit, some who dispel such nonsense with impatient disdain, and some who profess to have the ability to indeed, “talk to the dead.”

I have to admit in the past to being a skeptic about the supernatural. I was more interested in science and was the first to dismiss anything that could not be researched and proven in a laboratory. After the death of a dearly loved grandmother, however, some questions surfaced in my mind about the possibility of the continuation of life.

With timing that could only be manipulated by some higher source, into my life came Steve, a trainee nurse who worked as a psychic in his spare time. He belonged to a religion known as Spiritualism, (or “Spuggies” as they affectionately refer to themselves) and from my first encounter with this very interesting young man, I was mesmerized. Watching him give messages from the spirit world to those on this earthly plane was fascinating.

When I was invited to join his psychic development class one evening, I was as excited as a child with a new toy and couldn’t wait to see how quickly I would be chatting with the living spirits of all those who’ve gone before me.

The evening of the class was surprisingly sunny and warm. I expected thunderclouds and flashes of lightning to be hurled from a threatening sky as a cosmic deterrent to the spooky encounter, but the air was peaceful as I arrived at his little house in a rural Northumbrian town. In response to my nervous rap on the door, he ushered me into a tiny hallway. Once inside I heard a low buzz of conversations punctuated with sporadic bursts of laughter from the living room. It was all so normal. For me, raised on Hammer House of Horror movies, it all seemed a little too normal!

“Ready for this?” Steve asked as I stood beside him. I managed to nod through my growing anxiety at the surreal event about to unfold. “Come on then, I’ll introduce everyone.”

As I entered the living room, all faces turned from their animated discussions to send me warm smiles and welcoming exchanges. In all, there would be five of us. Sheila and Laura sat on the couch, their bright print dresses and milky white pearls a colourful, floral display on the chocolate brown velour. Beside them, a rotund, ruddy-faced gentleman, John, held out his hand and gave mine a firm shake.

“Welcome to the Spuggies night out.” He laughed, a twinkle of mischief in his slate blue eyes. “Don’t look so worried lassie we won’t eat you, you know!”

I reassured him that I wasn’t in the least bit nervous, although I reminded myself that these people were psychic; they could have a direct link to my inner most thoughts. Hiding anything from them would be futile!

Music from The Pipes of Pan played softly in the background and heavy velvet curtains covered the window and darkened the room. This gave the room a cozy but haunting air and I wondered how seriously my new friends’ believed in this process.

Steve sat in an armchair and I perched nervously beside him, the straight back of the dining chair hard against my spine. He settled into the softness of the cushions and relaxed. Taking his cue, the others hushed quickly and leaned back in their seats. Eyes closed and faces relaxed, they breathed deeply and evenly. The air was warm and still and the only light from a single candle in a large domed holder flickered gently, and threw long shadows onto the walls. Steve gave a prayer to God that all those present be protected in his light and our little group was ready to receive any spirit visitors that may wish to drop by.

Prior to this session, I had little advance knowledge of what to expect. I was told it was better for me to have no preconceived notion of the nature of such an exercise, for too much information may alter my experience of psychic development. Mustering all the confidence I could and not wanting to be left out, I copied the others and finally relaxed. As the minutes passed, the musical flutes swelled and ebbed mimicking the rhythmic breathing of all who sat in the room.

Fully expecting to see a host of grinning deceased relatives’ parade in front of me, I was nervous as I felt myself descending into meditation. The feeling of losing a little control spread through my mind and as my heart quickened its beat. I was scared. My eyes flew open in self-preservation and I looked around the room. The solid objects and the people present grounded me once again and I took a slow, deep breath. Mesmerized by the serene expressions of my companions, I watched them intently as I tried to slow my galloping heart. Shadows thrown by the rapidly dancing candlelight flitted across their pale faces. Despite the absence of draughts, the candle flame was now six inches high, and as it licked the top of the glass dome, it split into two halves like the forked tongue of a snake.

I watched the performing candle in awe for a few minutes, until I became aware of a change in the temperature of the room. Warm and stuffy, not ten minutes earlier, I began to feel a little chilled; the temperature appeared to have dropped by several degrees. As the beads of sweat cooled quickly on my neck, I shivered involuntarily and half expected to see breath clouds in front of me. I squeezed my palms together and felt them wet with fear. It seemed pointless to rationalize things I did not understand and I was determined to experience my first sighting – either real or imaginary – of the spirits in their world, or mine.

Allowing my mind to descend once again into meditation, I pushed aside all useless chatter from my brain, including my Hollywood ideas of ghosts and spirits and what they might do to me if I let them. The vision of the possessed character in the Exorcist as her head spun 360 degrees was a tough one to release, but finally it was done and I was free-falling into nothingness; my mind no longer controlled by rational thought and aware only of “Ave Maria” swelling from the speakers.

Suddenly, as if through an extra eye in the centre of my forehead, I saw a vision. Not a person made of gauzy shifting wisps of mist as I would have expected, but there before me lay a field of daffodils. Just as Wordsworth described in his famous poem, nodding gently in the breeze, their pretty golden trumpets raised skyward to celebrate the sunshine. My invisible eye drank in the beauty before me and I found I was reciting Wordsworth’s poem word for word but with a strong Northumberland dialect that was definitely not my own. When the poem was over, one name was left imprinted in my mind - Sheila.

From far away I heard Steve’s voice, gentle and coaxing, bringing us back to his house and our physical selves. As I opened my eyes, I felt a mixture of delight at being privy to such serenity but also very disgruntled that I hadn’t picked up any ghostly sightings. Nor had I received any life-changing advice. I watched everyone return from their meditations and immediately noticed that the temperature in the room had returned to its original cozy heat. The candle was back to an inch high, the flame glowing to a perfect point with barely a sideways flicker.

Once we had returned to reality, Steve invited us to tell what we had experienced. I faltered in my retelling of my vision of daffodils and believed it to be nothing more than a pleasant memory from my past. However, encouraged by Steve, I told Sheila that I’d seen a field of daffodils and heard her name and Wordsworth’s poem.

Sheila’s eyes filled with tears and she shared with us that she had read the poem at school over forty years ago. She had received a prize for her reading and her mother had been so proud that she had hung a copy of the poem on the wall in their house. I didn’t need a degree in psychic ability to impress upon me that my vision was indeed significant.

There it was. So easy! In that tiny living room in rural Northumberland, I had my first interaction with the spirit world. Sheila’s mother had visited. There was no fanfare, no misty visions, just a simple picture – a snap shot of life to let Sheila know that her mother was there.

If we all have this ability to tap into our psychic selves as the Spiritualists’ suggest, then it is not the Hollywood vision of ghosts that we need to look for. It is the simple illustrations, symbols and new ideas that pop unbidden into our minds; such is the real evidence that we are not alone in our physical journeys.

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Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

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