If the telephone rings, naturally the caller is expected to identify himself. In post-mortem communication, necessitating something far more complex than a telephone, it is not enough to seek the speakers identity. One needs to estimate also as far as is possible his present status and stature. This involves a number of factors, overlapping and hard to keep separate, each bringing its own kind of difficulty. Four such factors can readily be named.
The first factor concerns the communicator. How much does a communicator know? Does he himself always know how much he knows, and how can we know how far he is right? A post-mortem F. W. H. Myers points out - I say a post-mortem Myers, and not the post-mortem Myers - that a newly dead person knows as little of the real nature of the world now around him as an infant does of life on earth; the difference of course is that on death he has his adult thoughts and feelings to help him find out. The evidence clearly shows it to be a myth that on death all is shown, that death is the great revealer.
So in asking how much a communicator can be expected to know, one has to decide whether he is a tenderfoot; or a senior, perhaps even ancient, though not decayed thereby. On the contrary he could have gained a much-expanded consciousness as a result of his longer experiences. Indeed, part of his consciousness and experience can be expected to lie beyond our present ken, and so be only partly communicable to us: we are not able to share it all. The remaining three factors all involve difficulties and obstructions in finding out this status of the communicator.
The second factor is this: whatever he knows, how much of it can a communicator impart? As we have seen he can be unable to transmit it accurately because hampered by difficulties in the process of communication itself.
Allied, but again to be distinguished from it, is the third factor: how much of what the communicator means to say becomes distorted by the sensitive, who is after all a limited human instrument in whom distortion can come about un consciously but also semi-consciously. The medium too is sometimes unable to go all the way with the communicator.
The fourth factor - one overlooked more often than it should be - is that much of what is said can be misunderstood or otherwise altered by the recipient himself.
Taking these four factors in the reverse order, we have (1) misunderstanding by the recipient; (2) distortion by the sensitive; (3) the hampering process of communication as experienced by the communicator; and (4) our real quest: the communicator’s status and stature.
Factor one - misunderstanding by the recipient. Not to put too fine a point upon it, how far can that which is imperfect on his side of this relationship adversely influence the situation? He will assess his communicator both by the evidence, and by the value judgments implied in what is said. But suppose the recipient resists these value judgments stubbornly, because they conflict with those of his own he desires to continue to hold. They are probably much more comfort able to hold. How far is he able to be disinterested, how far does he indeed welcome the truth of the situation? Is he passionately enough concerned about it? He may not want the truth; he may go further and try to force it into his own direction. He can seek self-justification instead of being willing to change his views.
It is not easy to be ready within oneself to find out what the communicator really is attempting to say, as near to 100% as any imperfect human being can get. Unfortunately too the communicator’s meaning, as reported, may well be not too clear.
There may be some confusion about areas of reference; but if so it is of course no good just preferring to believe it must refer to the area one wants it to.
Another challenge arises when the communicator focuses on a blind spot in his listener. It is hard to estimate oneself correctly, as even so deep a soul as the nun Frances Banks found.
A true humbling ... to find that you did so little when you would have done so much; that you went wrong so often when you were sure that you were right.
The communicator must be able to touch on whatever area he wishes if there is to be the basis for a good communication; the listener too needs to endeavour to bring his real self to the encounter. The benefit of the situation is that in some cases the communicator has moved on further than the recipient and because of this finds it easier to be himself. This is an early way of recognising his status.
It is an advantage, too, that the recipient no longer needs to keep face with his communicator in quite the same way as with someone on earth. A very real imaginative participation is needed sometimes to find the true meaning behind perhaps very imperfect words; here unfortunately a good many psychical researchers turn away because it is an area, important though it is, in which they lack interest, since it contains much subjective content.
The second factor concerns possible distortions by the medium, working either consciously or in trance. The process of reaching the inner attunement which is required of a sensitive can be very exacting; in the case of some the preparation can begin two or three hours before a trance. Preparation is often insufficiently performed. Mrs Gladys Osborne Leonard once recognised to her horror that some words spoken in trance and then reported to her had been read by herself that same morning in her daily paper; from that time on, she would never read a newspaper before working. Unfortunately this sort of self-discipline is rare.
At times the communicator loses hold, and the flow of the thoughts and feelings of the medium partially take over instead, though still in the guise of the communicator. Here the recipient should not begin to argue. It is better to listen quietly and wait for the communicator to take firm hold again, as he will probably do a few minutes later.
The larger the stature of a teacher-communicator, the greater the degree of renunciation called for from the sensitive. The time factor too enters in here, a long period, possibly as much as twenty years apparently being sometimes needed fully to attune the sensitive to the deeper rhythms of the teacher’s perceptions, or to overcome firmly-rooted emotional antipathies, such as to reincarnation. To some it points to the existence of a mind at work independently of the medium to find, over a term of years, a sensitive in her everyday self stoutly denying reincarnation, whilst her trance control goes on teaching it. Usually in the end the trance control prevails, and he would then be likely to be better able to go on to express further aspects, which have been fully present all through those years in his mind, but hitherto incommunicable. Fortunately, the plasticity of a sensitive’s mind - just how much one finds out when dealing with them in everyday situations - is a help to them in overcoming their resistances. Later on, the opposite difficulty can be seen gradually to arise; the teacher’s philosophy having been accepted and passed through the sensitive’s mind so often, she gradually takes on those ideas as her own, both through reading the transcripts of her addresses and through the very transit of the material through her mind when originally given, even if in deep trance. The careful listener recognises that some material is basically, though not literally, repetitive; and that on such a day no new ideas are likely to flow.
It becomes apparent over many years in watching many sensitives that they are of lesser stature than their teachers mentally, emotionally and spiritually; this too brings about a conviction that there are indeed independent beings at work. Jungian concepts require that these teachers are looked on either as a split-off part of the self, or as representing part of the collective unconscious, as in the archetypal figure of the old wise man. But we still know so little of the constitution of man as a spiritual being. It is difficult for instance to regard the very circumstantially evidential ‘Mrs Willett’ in Swan on a Black Sea either as a split-off of the medium, Geraldine Cummins, or as an archetypal figure.
Each of the four factors becomes harder to assess as we move closer into the discarnate area. The third factor relates to the hampering process of communication. ‘Mrs Willett’ describes how in recalling a former earth-memory, say of herself as a young girl, she does not merely remember her, she becomes her again for the moment, she re-assumes her. We do not altogether know what limitations of memory accompany these temporary repossessions. Can the re-assumed young girl at that moment recapture qualities won only at a later part of her life, if asked to express them instantaneously? It seems unlikely, nor is it reasonable to expect it. One cannot be dogmatic here, but it is an interesting possible aspect of some failures of evidence.
To give an example of a more common type of misunderstanding. It often looks as if the communicator has to learn up his part beforehand, so to speak, and then do his best with the selection of facts he has brought with him. Here the sceptic smiles, but his smile does not harm those who are trying to find out the facts from experience. This certainly suggests that during the interview the communicator’s full memory is not accessible to him.
Communicators interested in the mediumistic process have spoken of this predicament, including such a well known researcher as Sir William Barrett, F.R.S., a founder member of the S.P.R. When speaking to his wife after his death, he says he is at this moment less than the being he will resume after the session is over. Perhaps it is not unlike when the eyepieces of the binocular are focused on a foreground detail and as a consequence omit some of the wider landscape around.
What, it must be asked, makes a good communicator? Naturally the desired recipient is also involved, since a similarity or harmony of temperament, sometimes perhaps made up of opposite qualities, is likely to ease some of the difficulties. In general, it is probably true that an extroverted communicator is likely to do better than an introvert, at least in terms of exchange. It also depends on the subjects on the agenda, and the depth of communication hoped for, and here the introvert may do better than the extrovert.
Communicators say that the process is essentially very simple, but of considerable difficulty to execute satisfactorily.
Without doubt there is required a completeness of concentration which many find they are unable to hold for long. The thread can come to an end before intended, there will be an apparent abrupt breaking off.
This is one reason why some communicators become disappointed and give up any further attempts. Successful communication requires a firmly held purpose, mental and emotional alike. Some say they like to learn by watching a more experienced communicator at work. It also needs to be recognised that, as F.W.H. Myers has said, a communicator does not necessarily have to be present at a séance. He projects a thought form of himself, which has a limited degree of animation. Perhaps this has some resemblances to sending a cassette through the post. Certainly it could account for why some communicators appear unable to deal with questions, especially when introducing a changed subject, even if it is expected that he would be able to deal with the question easily enough if his whole attention and memory were present.
It is difficult to come to understand what processes can be involved, but easier to recognise difficulties likely to be present, any one of which can break the threads between the three persons involved. Sometimes it is obviously very difficult for a communicator to draw the medium’s full attention, especially in a subject in which she is not versed. Here one sees one reason why the medium, when listening telepathically, needs to be undisturbed by her sitter.
This is a difficult part of the subject to study, since we often have to accept statements in a way which cannot be properly checked.
We can do little more than compare the statements about the process involved with the successes and faults and failures which our own experience observes, the more so since the medium’s attention at the time has to be very fully occupied with the person she is contacting, and she is not free to range around other points of observation. In other words, the finer the level of the recipient’s attention, and the underlying qualities which bring it about the better can be the emerging understanding of what is going on behind the scenes, and of the varying spiritual levels which bring about and colour the words employed. As in deep and important dialogues on earth, the more complete the participation which each brings to it, the more easily the real and sometimes difficult issues will emerge. This is about as far different as can be from when a recipient is content with just sitting comfortably and waiting for the medium to give good news without intending to make any effort to respond seriously.
The communicator then, it is clear, has a number of difficulties to meet and overcome. There is the group of these which cluster around the transmission process, and the communicator’s ability to overcome the problems of intention and concentration. Others cluster around poor attention and poorer motives in the recipient which lowers or damages the occasions. Others lie at the door of the mediums for whom other matters are allowed to be more important than the message she is or could be imparting. Goodwill, good spirits, good motivation and perseverance gradually do much to raise communication nearer to what is intended at its source.
All of us feel disillusioned at times by the incompleteness of communication, but then we see so little of the difficulties. This is why more refined communicators contrast communication with communion, and ask us to pass over to the latter, when discarnate soul can speak to earth soul in meditation, or in an extra-sensory and private way. Here it is pointless to expect the minutiae of evidence - (‘Did your grandmother sleep on her right side?’).
Conviction comes far more through the quality of the communion.
What is the essential contrast between communication and communion? In communication the communicator is at something of a disadvantage in having to speak mainly to the everyday self of the recipient. In communion, one tries to leave that self a little behind, to raise one’s level of consciousness and be in touch with the part of one’s inner self which comes nearer to sharing some common ground with the communicator’s whole present self; soul to soul, more than personality to personality. So in communion the telepathic process is more at home as it were, its impressions can be shapely and direct, if the recipient can find the stillness to capture them.
The fourth and last factor, and our real quest; the communicator’s true stature when unhampered by the local difficulties of communicating. We cannot hope for a perfect picture of him. Take the simple distinction already made between the recently dead, still largely encumbered within the net of their earth memories, desires and beliefs; intermediate ones, able to stand back and speak more objectively of what they have found; and seniors free or comparatively free from compulsions, able to speak with compassion and dispassion.
If early communicators are living to a certain extent among their own illusions, then they will largely communicate illusion. Part of what they see around them is a representation - which seems objective to them - of aspects of their own nature and such areas are likely to be shared with others of similar spiritual level. In these representational scenes, one would expect an element of assistance from knowledgeable beings, acting both as stage manager and teacher in this act of psychodrama. One intelligent man tells of his astonishment after death at finding how literal some newcomers can be. He sees a woman carrying around two large suitcases. She comes to a narrow, arched door with ‘Entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven’ inscribed above it. As she is French, the words are written in French.
She won’t put the suitcases down because she says they contain records of all her good deeds. In considerable distress she finds that as long as she holds on to the suitcases she can’t get through the narrow door. It is hard to think of a neater picture to show her the real motive behind her good deeds. Quite obviously the scene is not objective; but it does serve an objective teaching purpose.
If a man has not found his own psychological centre, or has not made a full enough inner psychological journey while on earth, he will face the need in some form to do it there.
If one accepts that practical activities can be carried on in the inner world, bookbinding for instance, one is probably both right and wrong. A mental environment can be created capable of being shared with other people, which while being illusory also represents an immediate need of the soul. Bound books created thus are unlikely to outlast the need of the craftsman who produced them.
Any advice given from these early levels will be little wiser than could have been given on earth. It may or may not be good; it will certainly be limited in its insight. After death men learn through being willing to change themselves even if the process is a painful one. Oliver Lodge found after death that his ready capacity to go on learning which he had possessed on earth still stood him now in very good stead. Indeed, lack of willingness seems a great obstacle, and can lead to a degree of encapsulation. Conan Doyle had some unpleasant things to swallow when he found a number of his former strongly held Spiritualistic concepts had been wrong.
In studying communicators at work he found some were impersonators, and this gave him considerable disquiet. Looking at Spiritualists from his point of vantage he found them altogether too complacent. He himself was too big to refuse to accept what he now saw.
The purpose of many communications is to encourage us to acclimatise ourselves to these after-death states, by starting to clothe ourselves now with new attributes. This is what Oliver Lodge meant in advising people to learn to live in their spirit body now, saying that many men on earth are only alive in about 10% of their true self. People often say with some complacency: ‘Well, I shall be quite content to learn about the spirit world when I get there’. But communicators like Lodge want to help us to make use of the unlived 90% part of ourselves right away, for our present as well as future benefit. This process of help is continued by communicators of senior status. This is where the value and the fascination of these investigations really lie, though obviously the vital preliminary is first to feel assured of survival. Such an assurance in turn, brings a conviction that life is worth living now and still more worth living hereafter, and that this worth is likely to be expressed in a growth of consciousness individual and shared. Seniors, if we can contact them or they us, demonstrate something of what this growth brings. Of course, like many other promises, there is a resulting condition: whatever helping hand is given is of little avail unless the listener then becomes willing to perform his part of the work upon himself.
In order to get to the core of this problem of status, it is necessary to recognise that all external factual tests, which are really designed to discover any mediumistic error or intervention, are irrelevant to the deeper levels of communication, though they form of course a salutary discipline of investigation. If a mediumistic control says he was an ancient Egyptian and shows, for instance, that he knows when horses were first introduced into Egypt, it may establish one’s confidence, or one may prefer to go to the trouble to show the medium could have come about the information in some other and normal way, but it is nothing to do with any spiritual relationship. The only way to find value in such a relationship which might be called a vertical one is to experience it and then to cultivate its fruits. As already said its value is not confined to what comes through the medium’s help. There is no need to be dependent only on the medium. That is, or ought to be, only the tip of the iceberg. This is where communion comes in. It continues to be available to deep private inner listening, other than in the mediumistic interview, but a communicator is still likely to be sometimes involved in initiating the themes and images which arise privately.
The critic reads the words of discarnate teachers, and usually mutters ‘platitudes’, but in doing so he turns away from his own inner self which the words are intended to arouse, and to which they are a way-shower. Due to inadequacies in the mediumistic performance, the phrases can be occasionally painful to those blessed with a sense of words, but nevertheless they often point the way to an experience which the listener can then reach. Ordinary everyday communicators, new arrivals, speak of times of solitary quiet, where further processes of assimilation come to them. Vertical relationships are largely concerned with a similar awakening of an inner self on earth, and the bringing to it a readiness for spiritual growth.
“The Communicator” is an extract from Inner Eye, Listening Ear: An Exploration into Mediumship by Paul Beard, published by White Crow Books