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Why Mediums are Like Distance Runners

Posted on 27 March 2023, 10:34

There are two subjects I’ve studied and written about extensively over the years – distance running and mediumship. They don’t appear to have much in common, but I have observed many parallels, similarities or correspondences.

My interest in mediumship and its relationship to the larger life has been discussed at this blog over the past 13 years, as well as in seven books and various newspapers, magazines, and journals. My interest in distance running and in the larger area of sport began during the early 1950s and continued for more than 60 years, during which time I contributed hundreds of articles to several national magazines and a daily newspaper. I had the opportunity to interview dozens of Olympians and legends of the athletic world.  I even had my own laboratory of one, winning some races and achieving a little success in the sport.  I look back upon my personal participation as one of self-actualization, not fun and games.

On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister of Great Britain became the first human to officially run a mile in under four minutes while recording 3:59.4 on the Oxford University track.  Six weeks later, John Landy (below) of Australia (depicted in a Vancouver, Canada statue with Bannister and also with the writer in a 1986 photo) bettered his time with a 3:57.9.  The world record is now down to 3:43.13 by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco.  Here are some of the similarities, parallels, or correspondences I’ve noted:


Beyond Science: Before 1954, science, as represented by physical educators and physiologists, said running a mile under four minutes was not humanly possible.  Science also said, and still says, with exceptions, that it is not possible to contact the dead.

Development Necessary: It takes up to seven years for a runner to fully adapt to the demands of the sport and requires much more training and development than previously realized to run a mile under four minutes. In mediumship, the best mediums seem to have developed over a period of time. Sophia Williams, one of the most-tested mediums of yesteryear, wrote that it took her four years of daily practice in learning the art of relaxation and complete detachment before the spirits were able to get messages through her. Gladys Osborne Leonard, another renowned medium of the past, wrote that she had 26 failures before receiving a spirit message. She gradually developed from that point.  How many people have that kind of patience, persistence, and perseverance?

Physical Limitations: Only a very small percentage of humans have the physical foundation, i.e., slender frame, exceptional heart, proper mix of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers, etc., to build on and develop into running a sub-4 mile.  No doubt, many of those who have the physical makeup never get the opportunity to recognize it.  And so it seems with mediums, that only a very small percentage have the “gift” to be good mediums, and there are likely many with the gift who have never recognized it or developed it.
Wide Range of Ability:  There is a wide range of ability in running among humans. Elite distance runners can cover the 26.2-mile marathon in close to two hours, but the average marathon finisher these days is much closer to four hours. Those who haven’t trained for the distance would likely struggle to finish in two days, if at all.  Such a wide spread of ability or talent seems to exist among humans in the area of mediumship. There are a few “world-class” mediums and there are some with just a modicum of talent, while most people have no real mediumistic talent. Nevertheless, many skeptics assume that if one medium can produce a certain phenomenon, then all mediums should be able to replicate it. It’s a black and white world for most skeptics.

Abilities Differ:  Generally, a world-class miler lacks the speed for sprints and may even lack the ability to be a good marathoner.  Moreover, world-class sprinters do not make good milers or marathoners. The sprinter has mostly fast-twitch muscle fibers, the marathoner mostly slow-twitch fibers and the miler has about half fast-twitch and half slow-twitch. The nature of the fibers seems to be mostly genetic, not something one can easily convert from one to the other. Likewise, a good trance-voice medium does not necessarily have the ability to be a direct-voice medium or even a good automatic-writing medium. Mediums can be as different as sprinters, milers, and marathoners in their abilities.  Leonora Piper (see photo/book cover) was considered one of the best “mental” mediums of her time, but there is no indication that she had any ability as a “physical” medium, one who could be levitated by spirits or produce the ectoplasm required for materializations.  On the other hand, some of the best physical mediums had little of no ability as mental mediums. I once encountered a clairvoyant medium who thought the famous mediums of the past were mostly charlatans because she couldn’t do the things they reportedly did. . 

Overdoing It: It is well established that a runner can do too much and overtrain, causing him or her to become slower rather than faster.  Researchers studying mediums have recognized that too many or too long sittings by a medium can result in them producing weaker phenomena or in losing their ability completely. Moreover, like runners and other athletes, mediums have their “good” days and their “bad” days.  On their real bad days, nothing is produced and the skeptics then assume they are frauds.

Cheating: Some world-class runners have been known to “cheat” by using steroids or “blood packing” to enhance performance.  Some people with no real running ability have been known to sneak into a marathon from the sidelines during the final mile or two and pretend to have run the full distance while finishing first.  Likewise, some people with no mediumistic ability have pretended to produce phenomena, while some with a little mediumistic ability have used tricks to exaggerate their abilities. 

Declining Years:  Competitive runners have their peak years before a decline sets in, primarily the result of aging, but also because of mental fatigue or loss of motivation. Mediums also appear to have limits in this regard.  Leonora Piper’s ability peaked during her early 30s and was in serious decline during her 40s.  “Burnout” seems to be a problem with mediums as well as runners. 

Performance Anxiety: It goes without saying that nearly all athletes warm up physically before performing and do their best to control their emotions and settle in mentally before the start of competition,  They rest and get mentally focused on the event, hoping that nervous energy is properly channeled and does not detract from their performance.  They especially want to avoid “trying too hard,” which can result in a poor performance. And so it seems to be with mediums.  Many have failed to produce phenomena at all on days they could not achieve the necessary passivity or when otherwise they had too many unrelated things on their minds. They simply couldn’t get tuned in to the spirit world. Hamlin Garland, one of the early researchers, reported that he waited as long as four hours in the dark for phenomena to begin. In a sitting with medium Mary Curyer Smith at the home of the famous physicist Professor Amos Dolbear, nothing happened for over an hour and Dolbear was ready to give up. Garland persuaded him to wait a little longer and soon books began flying from nearby shelves in Dolbear’s library over their heads.  There was enough light for them to see shadowy hands piling them on the table in front of them, after which a spirit named “Wilbur” began conversing with them. (See blog of December 30, 2013 in the archives at left for the role of harmony in sittings.)

Amateurism:  Professionalism was frowned upon in both athletics and mediumship in the early years. Aileen Riggin, winner of a gold medal in the 1920 Olympic Games and silver and bronze in the ’24 Games (in bottom right photo, giving swimming exhibition with Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller in 1926.), told me during an interview how she was ostracized for turning professional (giving swimming and diving exhibitions) after the Paris Olympics.  She could not enter the front door of athletic clubs, as professionals were allowed to enter only through the back door. Based on various biographies and autobiographies from that era, charging for mediumship seems to have been considered just as wicked and shameful as it was in sports.

Validation:  Controls in competitive running are strict.  A world-record cannot be recognized unless the officials are all certified, having met certain educational and experience standards, and electronic timing devices must all be calibrated. In psychical research, strict controls are also expected, but the problem is that the strictest controls, such as tying mediums up, seem to constrain or restrain abilities by making them uncomfortable and disrupting the harmony.

History: The mediumship “epidemic” is said to have started in 1848 with the Fox Sisters of New York, while the running “craze” is seen as beginning with Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s 1968 book, Aerobics. It took 20 to 30 years for each to reach a peak in popularity, before a decline in interest set in. The general public never really grasped the difference between jogging (for health) and running (for sport), the latter involving much risk-taking that can result in anti-health, anti-fitness, e.g., dysfunctional knees, ankles, feet, as well as a loss of upper-body strength. The newspapers would report that 25,000 “runners” participated in a race, when only about one percent actually ran, the other 99 percent jogging, strolling, or walking the distance. In the area of mediumship, neither the general public nor science fully grasped that the afterlife being explored by psychical research with mediums was not the pursuit of religious beliefs. 

I don’t know if there is any meaning to all those parallels, similarities, or correspondences, beyond sport being a microcosm of the more serious aspects of life, but, as stated, I found the sport of long-distance running to be a self-actualizing pursuit, not simply fun and games.  It offered numerous lessons in overcoming adversity and prompted much existential thinking, or soul-searching,  along the way.  As the late Sir Roger Bannister put it: “Only in something like running can finality be achieved, the sort of finality that is almost perfection. But it is not the kind of perfection that leaves you with nothing to live for. You are not your own executioner, because sport is not the main aim of life. Yet to achieve perfection in something, however small, makes it possible to face uncertainty in the more difficult problems of life.”

Bannister recalled that first sub-4 effort: “The faint line of the finishing tape stood ahead as a haven of peace after the struggle.”  Leaping at the tape he was “like a man taking his spring to save himself from the chasm that threatens to engulf him.”  It was not the end, though. The greatest part was yet to come – liberation! “No words can be invented for such supreme happiness, eclipsing all other feelings,” he related, adding that he felt bewildered and overpowered.”

Is there a better simile for life’s end than the finishing tape of an all-out mile run?

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.

Next blog post:  April 10

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Too Much ‘Beating Around The Bush’ on the “Afterlife”

Posted on 14 March 2023, 10:27

As a 13-year-old high-school freshman in 1951, I competed in my first running event at a track meet, the 180-yard low hurdles. I was in first place going over the final hurdle, but nobody told me that you were supposed to keep going another 20 or so yards to the finish line after clearing the final hurdle.  Thus, I triumphantly slowed to a walk after clearing that last hurdle. By the time I realized that I had another 20 yards to go to the finish line, a competitor from the other school had passed me and I ended up in second place. Thus began my life-long search to identify and better understand the true finish line. In life’s race, I have already cleared the final hurdle and have only yards to go, if not just feet or inches.  I want to get it right this time and I want others who haven’t been properly coached to know more about the finish line. What they do get from the “coaches” is in academic language, but most don’t understand it unless they get it in layperson’s language.


As I see it, all the chaos and turmoil, i.e., the craziness, in today’s world, has its roots in materialism as promoted by the entertainment and advertising industries, as well as the mainstream media. That materialism has extended to hedonism, of which nihilism is the core.  With the decline of religion, life no longer has meaning for most people.  The results are a serious decline in the work ethic, increasing cultural conflicts, the pursuit of “fun” instead of happiness, and the loss of hope that comes with recognizing that this world is part of a larger world, a conviction that can be independent of religion. Contributing to the problem is the fact that the younger generation doesn’t see the progress that was made during the last century and is trying to expedite progress by forcing acceptance of values that otherwise take time to establish themselves.  In so doing, they are going in reverse.  They fail to recognize that overcoming adversity is our greatest teacher and the lessons learned from overcoming adversity can’t be imposed on people.  They must be nurtured over time.  They are “jerking the trigger” rather than “squeezing the trigger.” 

One of the major problems I see, somewhat paradoxically, is “beating around the bush” on the concern for the survival of consciousness at death.  Even my terminology is tippy-toeing around the common words, afterlife and life after death. In a recent internet post, Suzanne Taylor, who is identified as a writer, networker, and transformational strategist, asked,  “What is the one thing we need most to save humanity?” She answered her question by saying that “the most important thing that could happen would be to adopt a new story of who we are and what we are doing here. If we think we are sinners we create a different world than if we think we are glorious. And how we can come by that understanding is to tune into what is called the Universe Story.”  She goes on to say that this involves understanding ourselves as the magnificent creation of a 3.8-billion year process of evolution, from cosmic dust to us, and the best way to arrive at that understanding is to tune into its most charismatic brilliant storyteller, Brian Swimme, whose newest book, Cosmogenesis: An Unveiling of the Expanding Universe, explains it all in detail.

I went to Professor Swimme’s book synopsis at Amazon and read that “in terms of the universe’s development, we humans are not only economic, religious, or political beings. At the most fundamental level, we are cosmological beings.”  That sounds good, though I think I knew that, or at least suspected it, even if I didn’t use the same adjective before “beings.”  Swimme’s latest book, it is stated, tells the story of the universe while simultaneously telling the story of the storyteller. Swimme describes how the impact of the new story deconstructed his mind then reassembled it, offering a glimpse into how cosmogenesis has transformed our understanding of both the universe and the evolution of human consciousness itself. 

The Amazon synopsis further states that “Cosmogenesis is one of the greatest discoveries in human history, and it continues to have a profound impact on humanity. And yet most science books do not explore the effects it has had on our individual minds.” I also noted that two of Swimme’s primary influences are Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Alfred North Whitehead.  Having read the works of both philosophers in the past and recalling that I struggled to understand what they were saying, I doubted that I would understand Swimme.  While I sometimes get the gist of what they are writing for their more intellectual readers, I am puzzled at their reluctance to use such words as “afterlife” “life after death,” or even the seemingly more academic “survival of consciousness at death.”  They all seem to imply that consciousness continues after death, or they leave it to the reader to infer that’s what they are talking about. Chardin mentions souls uniting with Jesus in distant future, or something to that effect, while Whitehead’s discusses “objective immortality,” a term which apparently has no clear-cut interpretation among those subscribing to Whitehead’s “process theology.”

Religion, in fact, for the great majority of our own race means immortality, and nothing else.

Going further back, to William James, one of the pioneers of psychology and cosmology, his 1902 classic, The Varieties of Religious Experience, never really addressed the survival issue, the very crux of religion. He mentioned the “eternal,” and “salvation” several times, and ,” and said there is some evidence that there is consciousness outside of the primary consciousness, but that’s as far as he went in that direction. Not once did he mention Leonora Piper, the trance medium he called the “White Crow,” the one who proved all crows are not black – the one who offered overwhelming evidence to other researchers that consciousness does survive death.  According to Professor James Hyslop, one of those researchers, Professor James asked Richard Hodgson, another of the researchers and James’s good friend, to review the proofs of his book – which was actually a collection of lectures he had given – before they were printed. Hodgson was somewhat perplexed at the fact that in the 400-plus pages of the book, James never directly addressed the survival issue. He let James know of his disappointment in that respect.  Whether to appease Hodgson or to correct his oversight, James then added a postscript to the book.  In it, he wrote: “Religion, in fact, for the great majority of our own race means immortality, and nothing else. God is the producer of immortality, and whoever has doubts of immortality is written down as an atheist without further trial. I have said nothing in my lectures about immortality or the belief therein, for me it seems a secondary point. If our ideals are only cared for in ‘eternity,’ I do not see why we might not be willing to resign their care to other hands than ours.” 

I have no idea what James was suggesting in that last sentence.  He went on to say that he believed facts are yet lacking for “spirit return,” even though he fully respected the research carried out by Hodgson and Hyslop with Mrs. Piper and others strongly suggesting such return.  “I consequently leave the matter open, with this brief word to save the reader from possible perplexity as to why immortality got no mention in the body of the book.

Humbug is humbug….

While writing that survival was a “secondary” concern, James also wrote that “the luster of the present hour is always borrowed from the background of possibilities it goes with. Let our common experiences be enveloped in an eternal moral order. (emphasis mine) In concluding the book, before the postscript, James stated, “I can, of course, put myself into the sectarian scientist’s attitude, and imagine vividly that the world of sensations and of scientific laws and objects may be all. But whenever I do this, I hear that inward monitor of which W. K. Clifford once wrote, whispering the word ‘bosh!’ Humbug is humbug, even though it bear the scientific name, and the total expression of human experience, as I view it objectively, invincibly urges me beyond the narrow ‘scientific’ bounds.” 

I wonder if James, Chardin, Whitehead and many others are simply “beating around the bush” in order to not offend their more ‘intellectually astute” readers – those locked into scientific fundamentalism who might scoff or sneer if they, God forbid, actually used more descriptive, unworldly words, such as immortality, afterlife, life after death, survival of consciousness, whatever.  Then again, it may have been a matter of getting it past the editors or publishers who might anticipate academic and scientific rejection of the ideas. 

Since Taylor invited readers to comment on her ideas, I did so and stated that, as I see it, the basic problem today is that with increasing materialism there is an increasing loss of meaning in life,  resulting in a nihilistic mindset and fear of eternal extinction. While such fears are for the most part subconscious, they significantly affect our behavior and mental state. I went on to say that those who have succeeded in open-mindedly examining the evidence for survival are able to develop a conviction that consciousness does survive death in a greater reality, one that is for the most part beyond human comprehension, although all indications are that it is not the humdrum heaven and horrific hell of orthodoxy.  I avoided using those simple-minded words of “afterlife” and “life after death” as I did not want to come across as a religious nut. 

Taylor’s response to me was a little ambiguous, but I inferred that she had interpreted my comment as suggesting that one should be focused on the afterlife as if some cloistered monk. As I interpreted her words, the focus should be on “smelling the roses” here, not “seeing into the afterlife.” And so the language struggle usually goes, trying to get the other person to understand that examining the evidence and having a conviction that consciousness does survive death does not mean that one has forsaken this life and is anxious to make the transition to the next.

Discussing the “survival” aspect of death involves walking a language tightrope so as not to offend those stuck in the muck and mire of scientific fundamentalism or religious fundamentalism. A major obstruction in the discussion is the idea of God.  Both the scientific fundamentalists and the religious fundamentalists seem to assume that an anthropomorphic God has to be identified and proven before the survival evidence can be examined.  Professor James even said so. I always argue that the evidence for survival can be intelligently examined without an a priori God. The scientific fundamentalist reacts to that with a look of surprise, while the religious fundamentalist reacts with an expression of shock.

“What are you talking about?”
And therein, as I view it from my lowly porch, we have the major problem. The finger is not even on the trigger.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.

Next blog post:  March 27



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