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Science and the Unknown

         Science is more about not knowing than it is about knowing.  Science is not a warehouse full of boxes labeled “truth.”  It’s more like a mouse nibbling away at the edge of the unknown.

Of course the unknown is always changing (so is what we think we know).  2500 years ago some Greek scientists (natural philosophers) thought that the world was flat.  Some others thought it was spherical.  They were all basically guessing, but Aristotle’s guess was cleverly based on his observation that when a ship disappeared into the distance, the last thing visible was the mast, suggesting that the surface of the earth was curved.

Another unknown thing at the time was whether the sun revolved around the earth or vice versa.  It was easy to guess one way or the other, but there was no way at the time to know, because it would have looked the same either way to somebody standing on the earth.  When Copernicus argued for the heliocentric theory 2000 years later, he was guessing too, and it took Galileo to present some interesting indirect evidence to support the theory.


Nowadays one interesting unknowable thing is whether the universe has a center.  Odd as it seems, there is no center to the universe as far as astronomers can tell.  Everything seems to be expanding equally away from everything else (except for the fact that individual galaxies are held together by gravity, and except for the fact that the farther away galaxies are, the faster they are distancing themselves).


It’s entertaining to read blog discussions in which people can’t picture this.  The easiest way to visualize this expansion is to take a sheet of paper with dots (representing galaxies) placed irregularly over it, then to enlarge the image by 5% onto a transparency, and place the transparency over the original. There is no center, just an enlargement of the whole.



What causes this expansion (latest theory) is dark energy, about which nothing is known.  We can’t see to the edge of the universe, and maybe there is no edge (in other words, it might be infinite, in which case there would be no edge).  If that sounds fun to you and not just crazy, then you have a good scientific attitude.


Here’s another scientific unknown: consciousness.  Neuroscientists can’t find your consciousness in the lab.  Like whether there’s an edge to the universe or not, the questions of what consciousness is, where it is, and what happens to it after you die (if anything) are still worth asking.  And fortunately we have some clues based on subjective near-death experiences (NDEs), out-of-body experiences (OBEs), apparitions, ESP, spirit mediumship, and cases “suggestive of” reincarnation (Ian Stevenson).

These “paranormal” aspects of consciousness are still beyond our ability to explain.  Some scientists like Dean Radin (Entangled Minds) think they might be explained by quantum physics; other “normal” scientists think that this is a stretch.  Well, it’s also a stretch to try to explain the expansion of the universe in terms of dark energy.


The cutting edge of science is always a stretch…a nibble into the unknown.  The biggest disservice to science occurs when taboos and dogmas prevent open inquiry.  Declaring the earth to be flat or the center of the solar system without evidence is just as bad from a scientific perspective as the current refusal on the part of many in the scientific establishment to take seriously apparent phenomena that sizeable percentages of the population experience, like OBEs and ESP.


Science is always a stretch: from what we think we know to what we know we don’t.


Charles F. Emmons is a sociologist at Gettysburg College and coauthor with Penelope Emmons of Guided by Spirit” and Science and Spirit.



Some Meditation Basics



Both of us want to comment on this important means of preparing for mediumship. Charlie’s section is included first.

“Meditation” refers to a variety of techniques for centering, relaxing, and quieting the mind (and body). Do yourself a favor and start meditating today and everyday for the rest of your life (if you can). It will probably help you with your general feelings of health and well-being, especially if you have a stressful lifestyle. If it makes you a better spirit medium or intuitive person (and it probably will if you let it), this is just a bonus.

When we teach people to do mediumship and other intuitive work, we always begin by teaching people to meditate as a matter of preconditioning from the beginning of the course on. This is another example of holism: mediumship works better and is more meaningful when it is congruent with the rest of your physical/emotional/spiritual health.

Of course we will give you some specific guidance below for how to meditate, and there are many other books and websites you can consult for help in meditating. You might like to take a class.

But first, let us share with you some general observations from our experiences teaching meditation in classes. A significant minority of people who have never done it before have trouble getting over the first hurdle of anxiety. “I can’t meditate because I’m too anxious/stressed out.” This is a Catch 22. Meditation is a form of relaxation, but some people aren’t relaxed enough to meditate.

One of the main causes of this anxiety is thinking, “I’m not doing it right,” or “Nothing is happening.” Therefore, it is essential to begin with low expectations and a tolerance for variety of method and experience.

Tell yourself, “Whatever I do when I meditate is OK.” Conceivably you could be doing it better, but anything you do is OK. Just sitting still and closing your eyes for two minutes is better than no meditation at all.

We have students journal about their meditation experience every day. What if you miss a day; is it the end of the world?  (No.) Don’t make meditation an inflexible ritual and a chore. Charlie admits that he is a very irregular meditator. However, he likes to meditate spontaneously, e.g. In the doctor’s office waiting room. He also does a sort of walking meditation on five-mile walks. But frankly he is not a dedicated, twice-a-day meditator. If he were, he’d probably be better off, but what he does do is a lot better than nothing.

One thing is certain: by the end of the semester the majority of our students comment (often rave) about how much benefit they are getting out of meditation. Several people over the years have even said that without the meditation we taught them they would have dropped out of school due to stress and other personal problems.

Another thing we’ve noticed is how much variety there is in meditation style preferences. We teach people several different techniques, and by the end people are choosing their favorite methods.

In short: don’t expect too much right away, fake it until you make it, whatever meditation you do is better than none, and tailor your method to suit yourself. If you stick with it, eventually you’ll be able to drop into a meditative state rather easily, and it will be the best free health benefit you ever got.


Now for Penelope’s statement.


I believe that meditation is essential to the development of mediumship ability. Our minds must be still in order for us to hear “Spirit” think at us. Initially I meditated for the sake of health (clearing the mind and body). I needed to learn to stop the constant mind chatter, learn to witness my mind and body (yet observe that I was more than them), and to use my breath to change my physical state to that of relaxation.

There are many ways to learn to meditate. For now let’s start with some basic exercises that we teach new students, not attempting to cover the topic fully. Techniques for meditating are most commonly taught in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. One need not embrace their spiritual tenets, however, in order to use the process. Some churches, including Quaker, Unity, Unitarian and Spiritualist, include meditation in their services. Sometimes this is guided visualization rather than entering the silence.

Here is a shopping bag full of methods. They are not in a particular order. Try some, then choose one to master through practice. We as a society are unaccustomed to doing nothing. We tend to think, “Don’t just sit there; do something.” To begin a meditation practice it is useful to try on the idea, “What I am going to do for the next 15 minutes is BE.” After meditation you can pick your other habits and beliefs back up again as you wish.

Exercise 1: Diaphragmatic Breathing. Let’s begin with diaphragmatic breathing. When infants breathe, they naturally perform diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm lowers with the inhalation and rises with the exhalation. To practice this: lie on your back and place a lightweight book onto your abdomen. Now breathing through your nose, fill up with air, and your abdomen will rise as if you were filling a balloon with air. Next let go and let the air out, again through your nose. Fill up to the count of four, and exhale to the count of four. In our culture many people suck the gut in when they think, “inhale,” so we are choosing the words “fill up” instead.

This should be done to your easy capacity; vary the length from four seconds in and four seconds out to a pace that fits you (1 and 2 and 3 and 4, now exhale the same amount of time). As we are beginning, try not to pause between the inhalation and exhalation. I imagine a figure eight in my mind and allow the breath to make the loops without a pause in the center. Perhaps you can focus your attention at the base of your nostrils and notice that the air is cool as you fill up and warmer as you exhale. Slowly repeat this diaphragmatic breath, and observe the book on your belly as it rises and falls.

Exercise 2: Breath Meditation. In 1980 I learned a simple meditation technique from Swami Rama at the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, PA. It has served me well for over twenty years. It can be used sitting, walking or slowly jogging.

Find a comfortable position in a chair with your feet flat on the floor or on one or more pillows or blankets, where you can keep your spine straight and relieve any pressure on your legs by adding some height. If no one is around, take a moment and use a yoga technique: lift/pull each buttock to the side so you are sitting evenly and centered on your sitting bones. This will relieve pressure on the lower back and keep the back muscles comfortable. Become aware of your spine and straighten it. It may be helpful to imagine a vertical string running from your tailbone up through the top of your head. Become aware of your breathing; just observe it for a minute or two. Now notice your body and see if you are holding tension. Take some time to visualize the tightness or stress falling away, and allow each part of your body to relax and become comfortable. Imagine breathing to each place of blocked energy, and the air going through it as tension arises and passes away.

Keep your belly soft and breathe through your nose; fill up (inhale slowly) to the count of four and exhale to the count of four. Instead of counting with numbers, Swami Rama taught us to utilize the sound “So” as you inhale and “Hum” as you exhale. Sounds used in this fashion are called “mantras”. The Sanskrit words So-Hum mean: “I am – that I am.” I sing them in my mind (“so—, hum—, so—, hum—”). When your mind begins to think (our minds do that!), simply say “oops”, or snap your finger and bring your attention back to “so—, hum—”.

At the base of your nose notice the coolness as you bring air in and the warmth as you exhale. Imagine that you are filling up your torso like a balloon as you inhale, and observe your stomach/abdomen collapse as the breath flows out. Keep your belly soft and be conscious of the fact that some people raise their shoulders as they inhale, and this sets up the body system for a fight-or-flight response instead of a relaxation response. Allow the shoulders to relax and drop. Create a smooth transition between the in-breath and the out-breath; do not pause.

Occasionally our students are so wound up or energetic that sitting still for 10 to 20 minutes feels like torture, rather than pleasant or relaxing. Therefore, at least to begin with, a good alternative procedure is to walk or jog to the sounds/count of “so—, hum—”. As you breathe in and out through your nostrils, pace your steps to the count. Four steps to “so”, then four steps to “hum”. Again feel free to adapt this count to your comfortable lung capacity. Over time the practice will expand your ability. If/when you need more oxygen and begin to breathe through your mouth or lift your shoulders to take in more air, slow your pace and perhaps shorten the length of each inhalation and exhalation. When your mind begins to think about the sights around you or wanders in another direction, simply stop and begin the mantra. No thought is the goal.

The intention of the sitting or walking meditation is conscious awareness of your body and breath, and learning to breathe in a form that relaxes and calms your physiology instead of revving you up. Most people are surprised to observe how busy their minds are even when they are not speaking or listening to others!  With these intentions you will be able to learn to discipline the mind naturally, so that you can be still and hear the still small voice inside of you. You may discover that you also sense or hear communication with other spirits.

Perhaps you are old enough to remember the original “Karate Kid” movies. The teacher had the student perform the movements of waxing the floor in a circular motion and painting the fence with an up-and-down motion. The student thought that he was being exploited for his labor, not to learn karate. However, after many hours of repeating the movements, he could automatically do the karate moves.


This is similar to these meditation techniques. The techniques are not an end in themselves. This breath meditation practice is useful for people with asthma and anxiety or depression disorders. For myself, my intentions are to still the mind, to experience serenity and joy, to know my soul and the one mind, and to be a receptive vessel for communication with Spirit. In my experience you will have “arrived” (a Western concept, because this is about the process instead of a destination) when you have a moment of no thought, no awareness of your body or the external world. I consider that holy instant to be a spiritual paradox of “nothing” where I am one with “everything”.

Exercise 3: A Mantra Meditation. While the above exercise used a mantra, the focus of the technique was on the breath. The following meditation exercise will be in the form taught by TM (Transcendental Meditation[i]) and by Hubert Benson in The Relaxation Response[ii]. With this meditation you will first relax your body. Then observe your breath and allow it to flow deeper and lower as you breathe diaphragmatically. After awareness of your breath let that awareness go and just breathe. We will start the process with a visual metaphor.

Make a mental picture of a lake where the weather of the outer world is creating wind and waves and noise. Then imagine you are floating down near the bottom of the lake and sensing how quiet and still it is. The turmoil above still rages, but you are in the peace and quiet. At the lake bottom there is fine sand, but you are floating a few feet above it, and the water is crystal clear. If you touched the bottom of the lake, the sand would be stirred up, and the water would no longer be clear.

In a similar way imagine that the crown of your head is the surface of the lake. You can drop a mantra into it from above and allow the sound to float down through your consciousness like a leaf sinking through clear water. When it touches the bottom it is analogous to thoughts from your other-than-conscious mind arising to your consciousness. The mind is no longer clear. At this point drop the sound of the mantra into your mind again.

There are many mantras; each contains a characteristic that you will be developing as you use it. I would suggest the sound OM (sounds like home, shalom) or AH (sounds like God, Jehovah, Allah). Some meditators also use the sound of creation, AHHH, in the morning to create the state of being they choose; and then at night use the sound of gratitude, OM, to give thanks for all of the good received. (To gain further insight and instruction about these two mantras look to Wayne Dyer’s The Secrets to Manifesting Your Destiny[iii] cassette tape set.)

Mentally say a mantra at a rate that is comfortable to you; this can be repeating it every few seconds or at longer intervals of a few minutes. Imagine it floating deeper into your mind. When you become aware of thought or sensation, let it arise and pass away, then again drop in the sound or the mantra. Your mind can hold only one thought at a time. If I suggest that you do not think of black panthers, you will certainly think of them! Minds think, and any mantra will interrupt the mind’s incessant chatter because you can only hold the one thought at a time.

The important point is a commitment to doing it consistently. I recommend twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes before dinner. Start with the amount of time you are comfortable sitting and work up to the twenty minutes. When possible create a time and a space where when you go there, you meditate. This will create a habitual response. Simply notice how your mind and body are ready to eat when you sit down at the table, or sleep when you close your eyes in bed. For that reason I suggest you sit instead of lie down to meditate!  Some people like to create “sacred space” with devotional items and beautiful, colorful things: candles, crystals, flowers, an altar, etc. That’s great if it makes you want to sit there! I have a dedicated meditation place for myself; yet it is also very important to me that I can now meditate anywhere and anytime, for all space is holy ground.

Exercise 4: Vipassana Meditation. Unlike the above, this approach to meditating I am unable to describe in a form that could lead you through it. I have appreciated the opportunity to practice this form during ten days of silence and meditation at the Vipassana Center in Massachusetts. Centers are also available in other parts of the country. Here in Lily Dale I know of three mediums besides myself who use this method to clear the mind and to restore equanimity and harmony in their lives. Vipassana can be taught without the full ten days, though that is a wonderful gift to give yourself in your spiritual quest.

In the Buddhist tradition you go the first time as their guest and give a donation according to your ability. This is significant because while some systems such as TM have student rates and lowered rates for the unemployed, their cost is still prohibitive to many.

        A thumbnail sketch of my first experience is that for the first three days we sat in silence, and I observed my breath. I did not attempt to change or control it. The process brings forth heightened awareness. Then I scanned my body head to toe, front to back in cubic centimeters all day for the next seven days. I was told that when my attention wandered I could simply let the thought arise and pass away. For about twelve hours a day in sitting and walking meditations I watched my thought, followed my breath, paid attention to the sensations on my body and noticed the meanings I had attached to them.

I gained great freedom within only my first ten-day session! (Of course I continue this practice; it is not a “one-shot cure.”) In the mid-eighties I had been working with a psychotherapist dealing with post-traumatic stress. There were intense emotions tied to past events that kept surfacing and tossing me off center. I went to Vipassana meditation to learn to remain equanimous. It works.

Until then I would other-than-consciously replay events or emotions in my mind’s eye and create fear, loss or anger all over again. I did not know a method to create a freedom of choice. At the training we were told to simply let the thought, feeling, discomfort or sensation arise and pass away. Then go back to scanning the body. (This is very similar to the “touching into the sand at the bottom of the lake” metaphor; our nervous system responds to our stored unconscious coming to awareness; just let it go, and allow it to be healed.) I had the impression that the Buddha became a being of light and ascended by scanning the body, releasing all cellular memory where attachment to the past, to outcomes, to judging was stored.

It must be obvious that I consider some form of meditation, or a natural capacity to have a quiet mind and to be present only to the now moment, necessary to effective use of the psychic senses, intuition and mediumship. Especially with mediumship there often appear to be discarnate spirits trying to impress my mind with concepts and feelings. In my experience I am a better “receiver” or medium without the static of my personal body and mind (feeling and thinking) creating interference. And I marvel and rejoice at the gift Vipassana gives of the capacity to remain equanimous no matter what!

I hasten to add that I can do mediumship without meditating before I begin. Meditation is not a requirement; it is my choice. I have even met mediums who do not meditate at all; in fact they relax by drinking, and they smoke cigarettes when giving messages! A large percentage of mediums smoke, it appears. I think it may be because it helps the person to stay grounded, and it filters out some psychic impressions so they are not overstimulated. I have that impression, but no real evidence. Suffice it to say that I believe that meditation is the most important tool for developing mediumship.


Contacting Spirits Through Activity

Typically people who think they can contact the spirit world do it by means of spirit mediumship, dreams, or apparitions.  These are basically mental phenomena.  What about by means of physical activity?

Well, of course, there is physical mediumship, in which spirits are invited into séances, for example, to move objects or to indicate their presence in some other physical manner.  These physical phenomena all involve (allegedly) actions on the part of the spirits.  What about actions by the living as a way to connect to the spirits?

In our previous research on spirit mediumship, Guided by Spirit,


we encountered people who said that deceased relatives would help them out in their daily activities.  For example, one medium said that she would mentally contact her husband for help in household chores, like putting up a window shade, and he would guide her.  On a trivial scale this is a bit like people who claim to be inspired by spirits (or muses) when composing music or doing artwork.

We could at least imagine that spirits like to join in activities being performed by living humans who still have a body.  This was the impression Penelope got when she seemed to be channeling Joshua Chamberlain (Guided by Spirit, pp. 74-76) on Little Round Top in Gettysburg.  When he was still alive he used to revisit the battlefield for many years after the Civil War, and perhaps now he needs the help of living eyes to continue this activity.

This is all prolog to telling about my practice of “spiritual solitaire,” which you could describe as a mental fantasy on my part, imagining that I am playing solitaire with my ancestors (actually members of my family, my godmother, and two former teachers).  At the very least it is similar to a child’s imaginative play, but just possibly it is a means by which these spirits can participate in my life.

For those who think this is just silly, that’s fine, but nobody is getting hurt by this, and I find it fun.  I play what is called Klondike in the manner that it supposedly used to be played in Las Vegas. You paid $52 (one dollar per card), and you got back $5 for each card you managed to lay out front in suit piles beginning with the aces (you can get the rules for Klondike online:

http://boardgames.about.com/od/solitaire/a/klondike.htm ).  Add one more rule to those on that site: if you have a card that could either be put out on top of one of the suit piles or played on one of the seven columns, you have to do the former.  This was a Las Vegas rule to cut down your option of sacrificing a “money” card in order to liberate trapped cards in the facedown piles (columns).

I play with a real physical deck because I like reality more than virtual games, and because it’s good for your small motor skills and brain functions to manipulate physical objects.  If you play online, the rules may be more liberal, and they won’t match the challenge you would have gotten in Las Vegas.  If you can actually win pretend money doing it my way, you know you would have beaten the odds at Las Vegas.  In other words, if you do really well, or improve substantially over time, you might be able to attribute your success to paranormal help from the spirit world (or some other anomalous cause).

I won’t go into all the details of how I keep records of my play or of how I modify my style of play depending on which spirit I’m pretending is helping me.  However, I shuffle at least eleven times, making the card order virtually random or unpredictable.  Then I set an intention, for example, to have as many aces as possible exposed on the deal, or to have as many possible immediate plays on the deal, varying the strategy by the spirit assigned to that hand.  I have noticed some fascinating synchronicities, such as very frequently having all 8 initially exposed cards be of the same color (black or red).  There are also very streaky results (big winning and losing streaks) and decline effects (very good results followed by very bad results on one sheet of records of play).  Such things are common in ESP lab studies.

How could these synchronicities (coincidences) be explained, if they are paranormal or spiritual?  Perhaps spirits (or my subconscious) can effect tiny changes in the shuffle to bring about certain patterns that I am unable to produce consciously.  Or maybe there’s nothing to it, and I’m just imagining things.  It is very difficult to establish a probability frame, but one thing is certain: if you are ahead in imaginary money over a long term, you are really beating chance.

You can develop your own fantasy world in the play of this game.  The whole idea is to have playful fun and to connect with your spirit friends and relatives, at least in your imagination, keeping their memory alive.


Charles F. Emmons is a sociologist at Gettysburg College and coauthor with Penelope Emmons of Guided by Spirit” and Science and Spirit.



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