By Anupama Bhattacharya
Is paranormal a mere fantasy, a creation of irrational self-suggestion? Or is there a deeper truth that can take mankind to the threshold of a higher existence?
This world is a beginning and a base
where life and mind erect their structured dreams;
An unborn power must build reality.
A death bound littleness is not all we are:
Immortal our forgotten vastness…
Await discovery in our summit selves
The first time I was asked to attend a séance, I laughed it off. But curiosity got the better of me and I walked into a dark and musty classroom of the Presidency College in Calcutta, India. I don’t know if any spirit really arrived—at least I could find no convincing proof. However, what struck me as strange was the keen interest verging on veneration shown by no fewer than 10 students present at the séance.
What were they doing? What was the nature of their search? Was it an attempt to break free of what Colin Wilson, author of Occult and Beyond the Occult calls a state of sleepwalking? Is the cocoon of our limited perceptions seems to be breaking down while a world throbbing with inexplicable wonders is slowly but surely revealing itself?
BEYOND THE SENSES
Have you ever spared a thought for that hunch you occasionally have about something or someone? Or questioned those strange and seemingly illogical coincidences when you think of somebody and the person pays you a visit? Mere chance? Think again!
Carl Gustav Jung, renowned psychoanalyst who hypothesized the collective unconscious, explains these phenomena by the theory of synchronicity. ‘Synchronistic events rest on the simultaneous occurrence of two different psychic states,’ he writes. Arthur Koestler, author of The Roots of Coincidence, feels that most events take place in a synchronized manner which can be put into a fixed pattern—a particular name cropping up repeatedly or a bad day when every thing seems to go wrong.
While on Jung, let’s also look into morphogenetic resonance or the hundredth monkey phenomenon. It has been noticed that when some skill is learnt by a certain number of a particular species, the others pick it up faster. It agrees with the theory of the collective unconscious except that there seem to be exclusive memory banks for each species—dogs never seem to tap cat memories!
Anil Bakshi, director of Personnel Search Associates in Delhi, India, feels that most paranormal capabilities can be developed through practice. ‘I got involved with the paranormal after a friend of mine told me about his experiences. He guided me in developing my potentials and I worked hard on it. Now I can tell people’s past, present and future. I’m not very accurate as yet, but I believe one an achieve this power through practice.’
For Shamshir Luthra, radio jockey and compere, the paranormal manifests itself in rather strange ways: ‘Whenever people come in contact with me, their lives invariably change—usually with drastic results.’ But he ads that it is not as bad as it seems. ‘The bad luck affects only the first time. My continued presence in people’s lives seems to bring a lot of good results.’
Many people believe that those who experience the paranormal or dabble in it are slightly soft in the head (psychic for them is synonymous with insane). And not without reason! Mentally imbalanced people generally have strong extrasensory powers. This is because paranormal is a function of the right brain and it is only when the analytical left brain is put aside that psychic experiences break through. That is why most people experience the paranormal during states of sleep and rest when the mind is fully receptive. This is also the reason that animals seem to have strong extrasensory perception (ESP)—the analytical faculty does not exist in them.
Many parapsychologists even believe that in the far reaches of prehistory, our predecessors were not only equipped with strong ESP but also with a third eye in the middle of the forehead, which could look into other planes. But over millions of years, the disuse of the organ made it atrophy. And it gradually sank into the folds of the brain. Scientific evidence indicates that there might be some truth in this. The pineal gland, located at the site of the traditional third eye, has been found to have a certain amount of light sensitivity, indicating that it might be the remnant of an organ of sight.
Psychic surgery, popular in Brazil and the Philippines, is another phenomenon that defies all explanation.
In his book The Flying Cow, Guy Playfair describes his mind-boggling observation of a psychic surgeon, Edivaldo Silva, who performed operations by plunging his hands inside people’s bodies—right through the skin—and leaving the flesh intact after operation. Pranic healing and reiki practitioners also claim to channel cosmic energy for healing purposes.
Paranormal manifests itself in varied forms—dreams, foresight, psychokinesis, déjà vu, and telepathy—each ultimately opening the mind to a reality beyond our limited perceptions. However, even though paranormal abilities can be directed for personal growth, like the mythical Pandora’s box, you may release a nightmarish horde of uncontrollable forces if you dabble in the unknown without comprehending it.
As a child, I had recurring dreams of an inexplicably beautiful place somewhere in the mountains. Though I never came across it in real life, it made me wonder if there are other worlds, perhaps as real as ours, which we occasionally visit in our dreams.
Dreams have fascinated and awed thinkers from time immemorial. The old epics from Iliad to Ramayana are replete with dream interpretations. Sigmund Freud perceived in dreams a revelation of the repressed animal instincts of human nature. For Jung, dreams were not only a door to the psyche but also a glimpse into the hidden wonders of the universe. The real answer seems closer to Jung than Freud. The precognitive power of certain dreams, along with telepathic visions, implies that dreams comprise something more than ordinary fears and desires of the psyche.
Dreaming takes place during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. In REM, if any external stimulus is provided, the sensation is somehow incorporated into the dream. For example, if a person is sprayed with water during REM sleep, he might dream of a shower.
But what happens when dreams invade reality?
In 1959, a New York disc jockey, Peter Tripp, attempted a publicity stunt by staying awake for 201 hours. After three days, he began to hallucinate and turned paranoid. It was almost as though his sleep-deprivation was allowing dream images to break into his waking consciousness.
However, as Bharati Ramachandran, a journalist based in Bangalore, India, discovered, dreams can also opens avenues of experience unlike anything in the everyday world. ‘My dreams unfolded before me a world of ecstasy and beauty. It was not just the images but the feelings—of oneness, of peace—that somehow strengthened my belief in the God within me,’ says Bharati.
One aspect of my dreams that has always fascinated me is seeing people who, as far as I’m concerned, might not even exist. Bharati recalls a similar experience: ‘I had recurring dreams of a group of people none of whom I consciously recognized, yet they seemed familiar, somewhat like friends I’ve known for ages. It was almost as though some people with whom I have a strong mental rapport could reach me across time and space when my waking consciousness was laid to rest. It made me wonder if there isn’t some truth in the theory of soul groups who continue to meet in different lifetimes.’
For Shamshir, dreams have another connotation:’ Once, while sleeping in the afternoon, I dreamt that a friend fell down from his terrace when the railing broke. In the evening my friend came and told me that he was actually leaning on the railing when for some reason he pulled back and the railing broke. Did I send a telepathic warning?’ wonders Shamshir.
And if dreams can be telepathic, what stops them from opening channels to other worlds?
After Dante’s death, 13 cantos of his epic poem, The Divine Comedy went missing. They were later located by his son who dreamt of his father guiding him to the cantos. Did Dante himself give the directions through the dream or did his son somehow tap his father’s memory? The answer is difficult. But dreams certainly act as means of communication between altered modes of consciousness. Artists, poets, scientists often seem to get their inspiration from dreams. Robert Louis Stevenson gave his dreams the credit for many of his stories including Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. A dream also inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a romantic poet, to write Kubla Khan.
Sanjay Bhasin, a businessman based in Delhi, recalls: ‘I never had any premonitions or psychic experiences. But what seems strange to me is that I often dream of myself as a different person.’ I can understand that, more so when I recently dreamt of myself as a professional killer. The strangest part was that I not only seemed to look different and had a different identity, but that I also seemed to think in a different way. Glimpses of past births? Dormant multiple personalities?—the answer seems to lie in the mind itself.
How can one body have different identities? Or for that matter, one brain have different thinking patterns? Ghosts? Mental disorders? Doppelgangers? Or something deeper than the human mind can fathom at this point of evolution?
In her sensational book Sibyl, Flora Rheta Schreiber recounts the true story of a sexually abused child who later split into 14 different personalities. Some of these personalities were also aware of each other. All of them had different names and they behaved like different individuals. Strangely, each personality also had different brain patterns, which are supposed to be as individual as fingerprints.
Interestingly, all people with multiple personalities seem to have at least one personality that is sensible, strong and benevolent—almost like guardian angel. Colin Wilson explains this phenomenon through his ‘ladder of selves’ theory. According to him, there are three basic aspects of the human mind: the unconscious, the conscious and the superconscious. In a mentally disturbed person, these aspects split apart, and multiple personalities are formed. These aspects can further divide and form any number of personalities.
This, according to Wilson, means that ‘our personal evolution is a matter of effort and optimism’ where, with a positive attitude, we can maintain the integrity of our psyche and reach out to the superconscious. Multiple personalities have also been explained in terms of spirit possession. This brings us to the next query: Does anything survive death? Can we, with our limited perceptions, shake the fear and pain of separation and accept death as a necessary part of the celebration of life?
Death, as some scientists are beginning to accept, is not the final annihilation. Something of a person does survive. However, whether it is just the memory in the collective unconscious, is a debatable issue.
‘I am inclined to believe that there is some kind of an existence after death,’ says Bharati who has extensively experimented with various forms of séances and planchettes during her college years. ‘My initial attempts at automatic writing resulted in answers that were often gibberish, or else, silly. But then, with the passage of time, something strange began to happen. I would be writing words I didn’t know existed but later found in a dictionary; some statements about the spirits’ personal life that later proved to be true. I also began to feel their presence.’
Priya Agarwal, a reiki master, also began to view life in a different way after her experience with the spirit world. ‘One day, a man claiming to be my ex-neighbor’s brother came and asked for his brother’s new address. I went to fetch my telephone book but when I came back, he was nowhere around. It was impossible for a normal human being to disappear so fast.’ Was it coincidence, wonders Priya, that her maid, who had also seen the man, ran away and later, each place she worked in was robbed. ‘When I learnt that our neighbor’s brother had met with an accidental death much before I saw him, I wondered if he hadn’t come to save me from a possible robbery brought about by the maid’s presence.’
This experience made Priya feel that spirits are not harmful entities: ‘I believe that they come when they want to help somebody or give some kind of warning.’ Bharati is not so sure about all spirits being benign, but she feels that her experiences have certainly changed her life. ‘Death itself doesn’t seem so very final anymore. It is more like an intermediary state between the islands that we call life,’ she concludes.
The dead always come back, some religions believe. If that is the case then very few seem to bring along the memory of their past lives. And those who do, don’t remember enough to provide proof.
Dr Kulin Kothari, a psychiatrist who has worked extensively with cased of alleged reincarnation and who figures in many film documentaries and articles on the occult, feels that most such cases have their basis in subconscious suggestion. ‘One of my young patients suddenly claimed to remember her previous life as a queen while she was passing through Rajasthan (India). But her apparent memories subsided after medication. If they are really memories and not hallucinations, shouldn’t they persist?’
However, this in itself cannot disprove reincarnation. The famous case of a Sri Lankan clerk Francis Kodituwakku’s rebirth was dismissed by the Rationalist Association of Ceylon because the boy who was supposed to be the reborn Francis failed to answer most of the questions about Francis’s life. But, following the same logic, can our failing to recognize events and names from our childhood disclaim our identity?
BACK FROM DEATH’S DOOR
Those who have been close to death generally cease to fear the last plunge. In fact, near-death experiences (NDEs) almost always make people look inward and view life from a different perspective. Such experiences have much in common—including out-of-body experiences, rushing through a tunnel that ends in a white light, and a feeling of free fall as they are pulled back into the bodies.
‘They are generally hallucinations brought about by subjective beliefs. Else, why should people see different images?’ asks Dr Kothari. But that fails to explains how a patient can describe the minute details of an operation after having an NDE on the operating table. It also doesn’t explain the strange peace that surrounds people with such experiences. Priya Agarwal recounts her NDE: ‘I stood beside my own body watching the doctors declare me dead. However, Dr Alok Chopra of Aashlok Hospital, New Delhi, administered a series of intravenous drugs and managed to revive my body. Suddenly, I seemed to become a ray of light and whoosh—I went back into my lifeless form.’ When Priya woke up, she felt immersed in a great sense of joy.
Telepathy is the most common form of the paranormal. People often seem to be saying ‘exactly’ what we are thinking. Or friends drop in just when we think of them. The Koestler Institute at Edinburgh University has been trying to prove this phenomenon for years and the statistics seem encouraging. The success rate of the Ganzfield experiment, in which a subject is made sit in a room while another person sends telepathic images from a different room, has proven beyond doubt that something not explainable by the present laws of science does exist.
The Ganzfield experiment also rules out the notion that people pick up feeble electrical or magnetic activity generated in the brains since the room where these experiments are held is electromagnetically screened. Yet, people continue to pick up information, not only across all man-made barriers, but also across time and space.
GLIMPSES INTO THE FUTURE
Nothing poses as many uncomfortable questions as premonitions or the capability of foresight. The most important of them is the concept of time. Is time a dimension? Is everything predetermined? Then what are we doing here, acting as puppets in God’s already decided game?
But premonitions also come as warnings. Does that mean that not one, but a number of futures exist (as in Richard Bach’s One), and it is up to us to choose our own future?
In 1966, an avalanche of coal waste buried parts of the Welsh mining village of Aberfan including the village school. More than 140 children were killed. Later it was found that many people across the world had dream premonitions of the tragedy for about two weeks before it actually took place. Dr J.C. Baker, who conducted the post-tragedy survey, felt that if premonitions could be recorded on a computer to detect peaks and patterns of a particular kind, then some major tragedies could be averted. As a result of Dr Baker’s initiative, the British Premonitions Bureau was set up in London in 1967 and the Central Premonitions Registry in New York the following year.
Talking of precognition, the biggest mystery is the Bhrigu Samhita (ancient Indian texts purported to have one page each giving details of the life of every human being on earth), and its counterparts in different parts of India.
Basudeb Bhattacharya, principal, Hariyana Vidya Mandir, Calcutta, who has been practicing tantra for the last 14 years and meditates all night at cremation grounds four times a year, also makes predictions, though he doesn’t know how. ‘I meditate every Saturday before the image of goddess Kali. During that time I can answer any question people ask me. I can also solve people’s problems. The answers just come to my mind. I never try to question it,’ he says. Or take Edgar Cayce, the famous American ‘sleeping prophet’, who would go into a trance and make prophecies. Cayce apparently prophesied world events such as the two world wars, India’s independence and the fall of communism in the Soviet Union.
MIND OVER MATTER
But wait! What if it’s not precognition at all? What if, instead of sensing what’s going to happen, some people manifest what they sense? In other words, isn’t there a possibility that what we normally pass off as precognition, is actually its more dangerous counterpart: psychokinesis (willing something to happen).
In the early 1980’s, a man dreamt of a plane crash in the USA. The next day he saw the report of the plane crash in the morning papers. To all appearances, it seemed like an innocent case of premonition. Except that the previous night, while looking up at the sky, the man had wondered how people would react if a major plane crash were to take place. It could have been a case of foresight, but—and this is where the eerie bit comes—what if it was wish fulfillment?
Harold Sherman, author of How to Make ESP Work For You, says that if we tap our ‘ability to synchronies our movements in time’, we can save a tremendous amount of time and energy. This we can do by desiring a thing and then willing it to happen. Sherman gives instances where he was saved from accidents and theft because he had instructed his extrasensory faculty to warn him in time.
THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT
The power of psychokinesis often expresses itself in the form of poltergeists. Parapsychologists believe that the psychic energy created by the repressed anger or frustration in a child or an adolescent sometimes gets externalized and manifests itself as a poltergeist. Some occultists also believe that poltergeists are forces that channel themselves through a child. Interestingly, poltergeists are never overtly destructive or violent. The activities relate more to things that an angry child might do—such as banging doors, moving furniture, breaking household things or throwing stones. However, the child concerned seems to have no conscious control over the events. It is more like a force let loose that expresses its frustration through random actions.
It is interesting to note that poltergeist bangs differ from ordinary bangs on sound graphs in that the latter rises and falls in curves whereas the former creates sharp lines. The Hungarian psychoanalyst Nandor Fodor argued that the poltergeist phenomena is yet another manifestation of repressed sexual energies. Guy Playfair, an authority on the paranormal, calls it ‘a football of energy. When people get into conditions of tension, they exude a kind of energy. Along come a couple of spirits, and begin to kick it around, creating havoc’.
While on the subject of mysteries, there is a mystery within the body itself that has eluded explanation so far. This time, it’s the all-consuming fire within—or spontaneous human combustion (SHC), as it is scientifically known.
Apparently, SHC causes people to suddenly burst into flames though the combustion is localized to the body. Other objects in the vicinity face no damage. Often the clothes of the victims are also untouched by fire. Considering the fact that the temperature required to burn down a human body is so high that nothing in the vicinity can escape unscathed, this aspect of SHC poses some difficult questions.
What is this energy? Where does the energy come from? Though many people have tried to explain away SHC (in terms of alcohol or fat content in the body), there haven’t been any conclusive answers. I remember reading in a book that sages often perform their own cremation so that their bodies won’t be desecrated after death. They supposedly ignite their own body through spiritual fire. Could it be possible that there is some truth in it? Are we sitting on a virtual minefield of energy, unaware, unheeding of the force within us?
DAWN OF A NEW AGE
Perhaps there is a point somewhere. Today, almost 90 per cent of the population experiences the paranormal—be it telepathy, precognition or psychokinensis—at one time or the other. A number of researches are also being conducted into the unknown parameters of the mind. It would seem that somewhere along the evolutionary ladder we paid the price of technological advancement with a loss or dulling of faculties that were innate to our nature. Thus, the mechanical took precedence over the psychic and most of our energies were spent on survival in an ever-changing world.
But now that the mechanical is reaching out to the as yet untapped recesses of the mind, scientists are beginning to delve into hitherto taboo subjects like the paranormal. Humanity itself is slowly but surely awakening to its hidden powers, the spirit-force that can perhaps take mankind to the next rung of evolution where the yin and the yang meet in the cosmic balance of polarities.
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HOW TO TAP YOUR ESP
Follow your hunches. With time, the hunches will become stronger.Try to remember your dreams first thing in the morning and interpret them intuitively. They might offer strange insights.
Relax. A tensed or overcrowded mind is a bad receptor of ESP.
Practice telepathy with close friends. You’d be surprised how easy it is to create mind links.
When practicing telepathy, start by synchronizing the time of sending and receiving messages.
Increase your ESP by card guessing and other such activities.
Trying too hard to concentrate can often result in negative concentration where you end up concentrating on concentration itself and not the object required.
IS THE WORLD A HOLOGRAM?
How can a person receive instant telepathic messages from somebody half a world away? Or will something to happen across thousands of miles?
Theories of electromagnetic fields and brain currents remain mere speculations in the absence of proof. And their unscientific nature or apparently paranormal characteristics make them unacceptable to conventional scientists.
The faculty of ESP itself seems rather fickle. Some people score high on one test and no more than average on another. Also, there is the non-repeatability factor in laboratory conditions. But can any scientist duplicate conditions under which the repeatability of the ESP phenomenon might be studied?
ESP, which largely depends on the states of mind and level of concentration, would need identical brain patterns each time the experiment is repeated, including emotions, moods, sense perceptions et al, for the study of its repeatability under identical conditions—an impossible demand.
Most scientific theories about the paranormal either discard it as illusion or fail to take into account many unanswerable questions. One cogent explanation seems to lie in the English Physicist David Bohm’s theory of a holographic universe.
A hologram is a kind of optical storage system where each part contains in it the image of the whole. Thus, in a holographic universe, the parts that seem to be separated by time and space are in reality one, and any part at any given time has access to everything that is part of the universe.
In his book Languages of the Brain, Karl Pribram suggests that the brain operates like a hologram, which might have access to a greater hologram, the universe. The separate realms of time and space, things and events might exist in our limited perception but intrinsically they are all one and part of the same hologram.
This also seems to agree with the French philosopher Henri Bergson’s concept of time as a row of infinitesimal points, which often give glimpses of infinity. Such moments, according to Bergson, are points of intersection when time meets infinity.
Experiences of ESP can also be regarded as similar intersections of time when the limited mind suddenly beholds the oneness of things in the magnificent hologram of the universe.