Monday, 30 June 2008

Life And Death

Reading Gordon Smith's book, Through My Eyes, recently made me reflect on life and death...

Is life the opposite of death? The way we talk about the two definitely makes it sound as though it is, but I would disagree. The opposite of death is birth.

Just as birth is not a state, neither is death. Life is continuous and birth and death are simply two events that mark a change from one state of life to another: non-physical to physical in the case of birth and vice versa for death.

I’ve had the privilege to be present as two people I love, my grandfather and uncle, passed into the spiritual world. That may sound like a strange thing to say about something that is usually perceived as a very sad occasion. And it was sad. But at the same time, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. There’s a line in one of Dave Matthews’ songs (Loving Wings) that talks about how the “angels have all gathered round”, and this to me perfectly describes the atmosphere in the hospital rooms as transition from the physical world to the non-physical was taking place. Our family was not alone at either of these times and neither was the person making the transition. The love surrounding all of us was tangible and beautiful beyond words. Far from life being absent at a time of death, it was more present than ever.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Gordon Smith: Through My Eyes

Gordon Smith is a barber in Glasgow, Scotland. But he’s no ordinary barber, juggling this job with his other work as “Britain’s most accurate medium”, a description derived from his ability to provide specific names and exact dates rather than the vague impressions often conveyed by mediums.

I’ve only seen Gordon in action once before, on a South African television programme, a talk show called Noeleen after the host. At the start of the programme, I was looking forward to seeing Gordon’s accuracy in action. By the end of the programme, I was disappointed. The people who phoned in to the show seemed fairly happy with the information that they received, but I was left feeling unsatisfied with the quick rushed feeling to the readings and the lack of depth. It was therefore incredibly interesting for me to read Gordon’s own account of the show in Though My Eyes, in which he talks candidly about his reluctance to do what he calls “McMessages” and how he abandoned his principles in this regard when asked to provide readings on Noeleen’s show.

Gordon’s regret over succumbing to McMessages in South Africa and his commitment to providing proper in-depth readings for those who have lost a loved one, is far more reflective of his spirit and the energy that surrounds his writing. Overall, Gordon comes across as loving and very down-to-earth, and the overall feeling that I experienced while reading Through My Eyes was one of comfort. In this book, Gordon not only describes what he experiences when communicating with spirits, but also covers the most common concerns that people have about what happens to their loved ones after physical death and about how to continue to live after bereavement. For example, Gordon discusses subjects such as the resolution of “unfinished business” in one’s relationship with the deceased, how spirits communicate with their loved ones to let them know that they are okay, and why messages from spirits are sometimes delayed until the time is right for them to be expressed.

Throughout the book, Gordon’s message is inspirational and healing, allowing people to progress through the process of grieving in a healthy manner instead of torturing themselves with feelings of guilt and anger. Each chapter contains many examples from Gordon’s experiences as a medium, fascinating in themselves, but also used to good effect to illustrate the information about death, dying and living contained in this book.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Seeing Things? Part 5 – Reflections And Conclusions

It is possibly because of how psychic abilities are portrayed in movies and television programmes that people develop expectations of being able to see energy or spiritual entities via their physical eyesight, and give their visual experiences prominence over many other ways of interacting with the spiritual world. As a result, confusion can develop over what constitutes a proper “psychic vision”, and many common physical visual conditions can be misinterpreted as having a paranormal foundation.

Throughout this series of posts exploring the main examples of commonly misinterpreted conditions, I’ve been reflecting on the implications of unquestioningly accepting paranormal explanations for visual experiences (beyond the obvious consequences, such as those from ignoring potentially serious physical ailments like a detached retina). I’ve come to the following conclusions:

When we are focused on seeing the spiritual world via our physical eyes, we can shut down our “spiritual sight” rather than opening it. Although psychics in movies are shown seeing spiritual entities external to themselves, it is far more common for people with psychic abilities to see energy and entities via their mind’s eye, which is developed and strengthened by nurturing an internal connection to Source energy.

This connection and the flow of Source energy is blocked when we keep ourselves “trapped” in the physical by looking for external evidence of the spiritual. It is especially difficult to maintain this connection when we become desperate to see signs of the spiritual in the physical world and begin labelling every anomalous visual experience we have as paranormal.

When we stop practicing discernment in spiritual matters we do ourselves a disservice. We can be distracted by “false” paranormal occurrences at the expense of seeing what is really there. Do we really want to be so focused on the face we see in the tree bark that we miss the angel standing behind us? When we allow ourselves to open up to a real and profound spiritual connection, it becomes clear that the types of visual experiences discussed in this series of blog posts are exceptionally poor imitations of the real thing.

Not practicing discernment also has wider implications than those that affect us personally. Not only do we lose our own ability to identify real paranormal occurrences, but, like the boy who cried wolf, we also damage others’ belief and trust in us and in the paranormal itself.

Do you have any further thoughts on the implications of non-discernment in spiritual matters? I’d love to hear them – please leave a comment below!

This is Part 5 of 5 in a series exploring common visual experiences often mistaken for paranormal occurrences. The other posts in the series are as follows:
* Part 1 - Floaters
* Part 2 - Flashes Of Light
* Part 3 - Pareidolia
* Part 4 - Retinal Fatigue & Afterimages

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Seeing Things? Part 4 – Retinal Fatigue & Afterimages

Stare at the white dot in the centre of the following image for 30 seconds, and then look at a blank white wall or piece of white paper. What do you see?

Well, it’s kind of obvious that it’s the American Flag, right? That much is clear from the image above! The illusion in this case, however, is that when you transfer your gaze to a blank white wall afterwards, the red, white and blue of the flag appear correctly. This optical effect is known as an afterimage and it is caused by retinal fatigue.

Our retinas contain two types of photoreceptor cells that convert light coming into our eyes into signals that are sent to and interpreted by our brain – rods are sensitive to light and dark, and cones are sensitive to red, green and blue light. Together, red, green and blue light make white light, and other colours are a combination of different mixtures of these three primary colours, as seen in the image below.

When we stare at an image for at least 30 seconds, the cones that are maximally sensitive to the colour of that image become tired and stop transmitting signals to the brain. For example, fixating on a blue spot will cause cones sensitive to blue light to experience fatigue. When we then transfer our gaze to a white wall, even though all three primary light colours are entering our eyes, no blue is transmitted to our brain. Our brain therefore only receives red and green light, which it will interpret as yellow (red and green combined). It is for this reason that afterimages always appear to be the opposite or complementary light colour to the original image. As the cones recover, the afterimage will fade.

Although our eyes are fixated on a particular point when doing exercises such as this, it doesn’t mean that our eyes are completely steady. They do move slightly and this can also cause us to start seeing an object’s complementary colour around the edges of the object, particularly if we have been staring at an object placed against a plain background. This phenomenon can occur just as easily when the “object” in question is a person, in that the colour of a person’s hair, skin and clothes can all contribute to retinal fatigue of the corresponding cones if stared at for a long period of time.

While I in no way doubt the existence of an energy field (or aura) surrounding people, it is for the abovementioned reason that I am sometimes doubtful of various claims to have seen auras, especially if the reported aura appears to be complementary in colour to the person’s clothes. I am also doubtful of the method often cited to teach people to see auras, which involves staring at a person (or yourself in a mirror) sitting against a plain white background for an extended period of time, as these are prime conditions required to induce retinal fatigue and create an afterimage.

[Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

This is Part 4 of 5 in a series exploring common visual experiences often mistaken for paranormal occurrences. The other posts in the series are as follows:
* Part 1 - Floaters
* Part 2 - Flashes Of Light
* Part 3 - Pareidolia
* Part 5 - Reflections & Conclusions

Monday, 16 June 2008

Seeing Things? Part 3 – Pareidolia

Have you ever seen faces in the clouds? Or in knotted and gnarled tree trunks? How about the “man in the moon”? Or the Virgin Mary’s face in a grilled cheese sandwich?!

These are all common examples of Pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon in which a random stimulus is interpreted by the brain as something specific and recognisable. Pareidolia can be visual, such as seeing patterns of light and shade as a face, or it can be auditory, such as hearing words spoken inamongst static or white noise.

Pareidolia is a natural outcome of the fact that our brains are designed to process a great deal of information in our physical environment. In order for us to survive, our brains have to be able to recognise important patterns inamongst the noise. For example, Carl Sagan hypothesised that survival was dependent on being able to recognise the human face from a distance and in poor visibility using only minimal visual cues.

Although there are about twelve visual cues that have been identified as important for a random pattern to be identified as a face (such as eyes darker than forehead and mouth darker than cheeks), our brains don’t actually process each of these cues individually in order to conclude that it is seeing a face. Instead, our brains process faces holistically, seeing the whole image at once and immediately identifying it as an individual. Research into exactly how the brain does this and which parts of the brain are involved is still ongoing. The identification of the visual cues involved in this processing has been invaluable, however, in allowing facial recognition software to be developed and put to use in areas as diverse as identifying terrorist suspects amidst crowds at an airport to being able to focus correctly on faces using your point-and-shoot digital camera.

Does the existence of pareidolia rule out any paranormal explanation for seeing faces in nature or hearing voices in static? Is it still possible that these are evidence of nature spirits or spirit communication? My own feeling is that many experiences such as these are simply visual or auditory illusions. However, I do also feel that some such experiences are very real indications of paranormal activity. Rather than leaping to conclusions either way when something like this is experienced, I would urge you to keep an open mind (both ways!) and use sensitivity and considered judgement when coming to a decision about what you are seeing or hearing.

This is Part 3 of 5 in a series exploring common visual experiences often mistaken for paranormal occurrences. The other posts in the series are as follows:
* Part 1 - Floaters
* Part 2 - Flashes Of Light
* Part 4 - Retinal Fatigue & Afterimages

* Part 5 - Reflections & Conclusions

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Seeing Things? Part 2 – Flashes Of Light

In my previous blog post, I looked at the topic of floaters, a common eye condition which is sometimes misinterpreted by people as evidence for paranormal activity, such as the presence of a spirit or ability to see energy. In this post, I’ll be looking at a related eye condition experienced by many people, namely small flashes of light seen out the corner of the eye.

Seeing small flashes of twinkling light in one’s visual field is often discussed in spiritual circles as evidence of angelic presence with the person seeing them. This blog post is not meant to debunk this belief in any way – I fully believe in angels myself and have felt their presence on many an occasion. However, I do think that it’s important to practice discernment when it comes to spiritual and paranormal matters. In other words, seeing small flashes of light may very well signify angelic presence, but it may also be a sign of a serious physical eye problem that requires immediate medical attention. Rather than making the automatic assumption that the experience has a paranormal cause, it is best to have one’s eyes checked first to rule out any health issues.

Light flashes can occur when the vitreous gel in our eyes detaches from the retina at the back of the eye. As mentioned in the last post on floaters, this detachment is a normal and natural occurrence, which usually occurs fairly smoothly. However, on occasion, the vitreous will sometimes pull on the retina as it detaches instead of coming away cleanly. When this happens, the photoreceptors on the light-sensitive retina are stimulated and are experienced by us as small flashes of light, often described as sparkles, lightning, fireflies, fireworks, or sparks. Although there may be nothing to worry about, the possibility does exist that the retina could become torn or detached as the vitreous pulls away from it. As a result, if you see flashes of light, it is recommended that you visit an eye care professional to determine whether or not you are at risk of damage to your retina.

This is Part 2 of 5 in a series exploring common visual experiences often mistaken for paranormal occurrences. The other posts in the series are as follows:
* Part 1 - Floaters
* Part 3 - Pareidolia
* Part 4 - Retinal Fatigue & Afterimages

* Part 5 - Reflections & Conclusions

Monday, 9 June 2008

Seeing Things? Part 1 - Floaters

Do you sometimes see grey or semi-transparent dark-edged specks, strands or squiggly lines in your field of vision, particularly if you are looking up at the clear sky or at a blank wall? As I’m writing this, I’m aware of seeing a couple against the white of my MS Word page –one is circular in shape, transparent with a dark nucleus and dark ring around its edge, while the other looks like a tiny grey worm! They are similar in appearance to the ones in the picture below.

People who experience these usually have one of two reactions: either they fear that there is something drastically wrong with their eyes or vision, or if they are interested in the paranormal, they often get excited that they are seeing energy or evidence of a spirit’s presence. The truth is much more prosaic than either of these, however.

These specks, strands or cobwebs are called floaters, otherwise known in technical medical terms as muscae volitantes, and they are a very common eye condition, particularly amongst middle-aged or nearsighted people. They develop when the vitreous gel, the clear jelly-like substance that fills the back two-thirds of our eye, undergoes very natural changes as we age – small pockets of liquid form within the vitreous, the strands of collagen within the vitreous become thicker and denser, and the vitreous shrinks and detaches from the back of the eye. The shapes that we see are actually the shadows cast by these liquid pockets or collagen strands floating in the vitreous as light travels through the vitreous to the retina. Because the floaters are in our eyes, they move with our eyes, either drifting across our vision or darting away as we try to focus on them directly.

Although the changes mentioned above may sound worrying, there is usually no cause for concern and they generally don’t affect vision beyond being mildly annoying. Our brains can adapt to the floaters’ presence and will learn to ignore them for the most part. Floaters also tend to decrease in size or darkness over time, or “settle” at the bottom of our eyes below our line of sight. However, if you experience a sudden increase in the number of floaters that you can see, or if your floaters change significantly, it is recommended that you visit an eye care professional, such as an optometrist or opthalmologist, so that they can check the health of your retina.

[Image credit: Acdx on Wikimedia Commons]

This is Part 1 of 5 in a series exploring common visual experiences often mistaken for paranormal occurrences. The other posts in the series are as follows:
* Part 2 - Flashes Of Light
* Part 3 - Pareidolia
* Part 4 - Retinal Fatigue & Afterimages

* Part 5 - Reflections & Conclusions

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Eckhart Tolle: A New Earth

A New Earth is Eckhart Tolle’s second book on the power of living in the present moment. Like The Power Of Now, his first book, A New Earth is special to read. Words are powerful carriers of energy, and both of Eckhart’s books emanate the love, peace and joy that he obviously experienced while writing these from a place of presence and high level of consciousness.

The book takes its title from a Biblical prophecy that refers to the emergence of a new heaven and a new earth, the deeper meaning of which relates to the transformation of human consciousness and the reflection of this higher level of awareness in the physical world. Although the title has its basis in a Christian teaching, A New Earth is a spiritual book and as such can be read by people of any religion or people of no specific religion. In fact, it is interesting to note that the feedback received from the webcasts done recently by Oprah and Eckhart Tolle has indicated that many people have found that reading the book enabled them to understand the teachings of their religions in far greater depth and to apply them with far greater insight than they had previously had.

While The Power Of Now was written in question and answer format, A New Earth reads more like a traditional book, and it is therefore often the preferred introduction to the topic for many people. It was certainly Oprah’s choice for the webcasts that she and Eckhart conducted! Having read both books, I would probably recommend starting with The Power Of Now; however, this really is a personal choice and either will do as a starting point. The important thing is to read at least one of these books, and to reflect on and practice the teachings contained within them. Increasing your awareness and living in the present moment can be a challenging process, particularly when you start, but the rewards are immense. If you haven’t yet read my earlier review of The Power Of Now, you can find it and read about these rewards here.

In addition to going in-depth on subjects such as the ego and the pain-body, A New Earth addresses the topic of conscious creating, particularly in Chapter 10. Although Eckhart never refers to this as The Law Of Attraction, the principles that he discusses provide a spiritual view on the process of creation. If you’ve ever felt disillusioned by the very materialistic view of The Law Of Attraction, then Eckhart’s description of how consciousness creates may be just the antidote that you need!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Developing A Relationship With Your Spirit Guides (Part 2)

This is the second part of a two-part series of consciously communicating with your spirit guides. If you haven’t yet read Part 1, you can find it here.

Will I be able to see my guides? What do they look like?
Some people may be able to see their guides with their physical eyes, but most people usually only see their guides in their “mind’s eye”. It is similar to the visual that you see in your head when you think about a friend who is currently not physically present. I can picture my guides’ faces and clothes, although this is more a representation that they and I seem to have decided upon rather than what they “really” look like. While what I am seeing in my mind’s eye may be how my guides appeared when they were in physical form, this is less important than their identifying energy signature.

Each guide “feels” different on an energy level, and so I can tell who I’m communicating with by means of this energy signature. To me this energy is tangible in that I can sense my guides standing next to or behind me. Far from being scary, their presence is loving and supportive. Probably the best way of explaining what this sensation is like is to ask you if you are able to “feel” when someone is standing next to you (in the physical world)? Even if you had your eyes closed and the person moved quietly into your physical space, you would probably be aware that they were there by picking up on their energy field, or through even subtle changes in the air around you.

Do my guides have names?
Guides don’t have names in the way that we use names here on earth. As with the answer to the question above, what is most important is their energy signature. That said, in order to facilitate their communication with us, our guides will either give us a name that we can use to identify them, or allow us to pick a name that we feel comfortable using for them. Either way, guides’ names end up ranging from the exotic to the ordinary. Your guide is no less of a guide if his name is Joe Schmoe rather than something that sounds like it comes from ancient Lemuria. Since they don’t have any ego attachments to their names, guides really don’t mind what you call them. Their only concern is that it helps you to connect to them.

I thought I’d connected with my guide, but he turned out to have a really wacky sense of humour… aren’t guides supposed to be all serious?
Guides take their roles and responsibilities seriously, but they are by no means dour automatons! They have individual “personalities” and are often humorous, especially when it helps you to get the message that they are conveying. In your guide team, you will probably find a mixture of characters – some may be goofy, others gentle, some more on the solemn side, others lively and cheerful. What permeates all their characters, however, is a deep and profound sense of love and support for you.

My guide seems to like to insult me… I didn’t think guides were supposed to be mean?
They’re not. As I’ve just mentioned in the previous question, guides are loving spiritual beings. They are not mean, they do not convey their messages via insults and they do not belittle or criticise you. If your conversations with your guide are negative in tone, it is possible that you are not talking to your guide at all. Either your own egoic voice (the critic in our heads) is strong and drowning out your guides, or you may be chatting to a lower level entity posing as your guide.

If you are concerned that it may be the latter, check the authenticity of your “guide” by asking them if they are aligned with Divine Love and are working for your highest good. A real spirit guide will not mind the question at all and will answer unhesitatingly in the affirmative. If the entity answers no, hesitates, or does a better job of evading the question than a politician put on the spot, then you have encountered a lower level being. Simply tell them firmly to go away and not to return – your energetic space is just as much yours as is your physical space and you are entitled to do this. They have to obey!

Please don’t be unduly worried about attracting a lower level or negative entity. Most of us are positive enough that our vibrations don’t attract such beings. If you are feeling in a negative emotional state, however, consider using some protective techniques, such as surrounding yourself with white light, before opening up the lines of communication with your guides.